02 Dec 2015
A friend of mine died on Monday. I was going into a meeting and got a text, then suddenly I wasn’t going into a meeting.
I stood in the corridor, contacted friends, cried in the corner.
My friend was 80. I am 40. I got to know him in my first week living in Belfast in 2003. I was living on the Falls Road. I was interested in ecumenical work, and everybody said “You need to meet Fr Gerry in Clonard.”
I called in. I expected to talk reconciliation. But for an hour, Fr. Gerry asked about my family, my friends, my story, my faith.
For the last 12 years we’ve taken regular walks. Fr. Gerry’s reputation is as a man of peace, but we mostly talked about poetry. He had a life–long habit of memorising poems, reciting them during morning prayers.
Walking up Glencairn one damp day, he recited Edwin Muir’s “One foot in Eden” word for word. Another time, he recited TS Elliot’s “The Journey of The Magi” with all the sincerity of prayer. And another time, we both recited Patrick Kavanagh’s “Advent” to each other.
In the middle of all of this poetry, we would talk and then Gerry would interrupt this to chat with everybody he saw.
“Lovely day” he’d say to every walker.
“Lovely doggie” he’d say to the dogwalkers,
“What a snazzy bike” he’d say to the people trying to get past us on the Lagan Towpath.
He made me late for a meeting once because he engaged us in a long conversation about Calvin with two Methodist women we met walking along the strand at Holywood.
I held an 1980’s party for my 30th birthday and Fr. Gerry came along dressed in his cassock. “This is what I wore in the 80s” he said, giggling into his Guinness.
“Thanks a thousand” he’d say, holding long to your hand with his own warm hands.
The last time we walked was a few months ago. We took a wander through Woodvale Park on the Shankill. Gerry looked at the outdoor gym equipment in the Park, “Teach me how to use these” he said. So, a 40 and and 80 year old used the gym equipment for half an hour. He couldn’t stop laughing while he tried the elliptical machine.
For Gerry the world was a place of curiosity. He searched for friendships where others saw enmity. In my own Advent grief, I remember that Gerry saw spirit shocking wonder everywhere.
He heard it in the whispered argument of a churning, he always saw the January flower, he saw all as decent folk, seeing wonder wherever life pours ordinary plenty.