Saying Thanks to Nobody


This will probably be a weird one.

It’s usually a sign that a weird one is about to come out when my mind keeps on saying, “Write something else, Ken, you can’t write that.”

So, you know, brace yourself or whatever.

When I go to bed every night, I have a very simple routine. I read. I can’t sleep without reading. Well, I probably could but I never try. Even it was four o’clock in the morning, I would still be reading before sleep. As I’ve described elsewhere (in what is oddly one of my favourite posts) there comes a moment when the words on the page meld into the words in my head and I start to read a strange dreamlike story that is not in the book. That’s when I know it’s time for a kip.

That might be a bit weird but only a bit. It’s not the actual weird thing. I’m trying to work myself up to that.

After the book is put down and the bedside light is switched off, I go to sleep. I tend to go to sleep really quickly and easily. The sleep may not always continue all night but it often does and I get there pretty quick.

But just as I’m heading off out, sleep descending, I do the weird thing.

I say thanks.

I run through some of the best things that happened in that day. They are tiny things, often. Something funny, something sweet, something that deserves a little acknowledgement. Something to be grateful for. And I say thanks for them.

Then I go to sleep.

“Not so weird, Ken,” you might say, “not so bad at all.”

You’re right, of course, it’s not weird at all. It’s kind of nice really. Except… well, except to me. It still seems kind of weird to me. I like doing it and I think it sends me off to sleep in a good and positive frame of mind. But, yes, it’s still weird to me. I mean, who am I thanking, exactly?

That’s a simple question but there’s no easy answer to it.

I was brought up in the same religious regime that most of my peers were. A Catholic schooling with all the trimmings. Mass on Sundays and all of the holy days. Being a thoughtful kind of a young fella, more of that stuff may have rubbed off on me that it did on many of the others. But, then again, many of the others are probably still going to mass every Sunday and I am not. I like to think I know more about Catholic stuff than most of the people I know. I did years serving on the altar as a kid and I had a religious instruction teacher who delighted in briefing us on the minutia of the dogma, something that was always interesting to me.

So, yeah, that all makes sense. Easy, really. I’m giving thanks to God every night. Sorted.

The trouble is. I don’t believe in God anymore. I haven’t in a long time.

Even when I say that out loud, it sounds rather belligerent and confrontational to me. But it’s not. There’s a kind of dull sadness attached to my saying that, rather than any ‘stand up and I’ll fight you’ mentality. Something that was given to me as a child has been lost and I guess some childish comfort has probably been lost with it too. I think I envy people who believe in their God. They can derive strength from knowing they are not on their own in the universe. That someone will be waiting for them at the end of their road with some tea and possibly a nice piece of cake.

So, if that's the case, and it is, who do I talk to when I say thanks at night?

Well, the truth is, I know who it is and I will tell you but you’re probably not going to like it.

Yes, you may have guessed it. It’s God.

As I just finished telling you, I don’t believe in God. No great reason. At some point it just came to me that there is no tangible reason for me to believe that God exists and that there is a shed load of tangible reasons for me to believe that he/she does not. To think otherwise is to deny my own mind, my own reason. I’m not an atheist, at least I don’t think so. The definitions of those things mix me up a bit sometimes. I think I’m a cheerful agnostic. I’d be quite happy to find a wonderful existence beyond this one, where all those gone before reside. I just don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t believe it.

So, about that thing I do at night, before I fall asleep? What the fuck is that about so?

I’m not sure. It’s a sleepy thing. My theory, for what it’s worth, goes like this: In that sleepy moment, where I am cosy and warm and all wrapped up, I allow myself a moment to revert to a time when questions and answers were easier and not to be challenged. I want to thank someone or something for the good things of the day, if only to acknowledge to myself that I am at a lucky and happy time of my life, to acknowledge that this cannot last forever and that I must treasure it while I can. Because there is nobody obvious to thank, I call upon my memory and find somebody there to whom I can express my gratitude. And I do.

So that’s it. This week’s weird thing. Before I go to sleep, every night, I appear to say thanks to a God I don’t believe in.

You might scoff and say, “Get over yourself, Ken. You obviously still believe in God and you might as well stop trying to convince yourself otherwise.” It’s a thought and I do sometimes think about it. But I don’t conclude that it’s right. When I look as deep as I can, I can’t see that inside of me. Once I even wrote about how I should perhaps just decide to be a believer, despite what I think. To make it an act of faith of the kind that religions often promote. I can’t manage to do that either, though. We can only be true to ourselves and what we believe, that’s all we’ve got.

I think the main proof that I don’t believe in whoever I thank every night is this. I never, ever ask for anything. No matter how dire the circumstance, I never seek any intervention or help from on high. I just don’t think help is there to be had. No, I just run through a few good things from the day, say a quick ‘thank you’, and then toddle off to sleep.

Who am I thanking?

God only knows.

Jumping Up and Down for Sally


I want to jump up and down a bit for Sally. I think I just might.

I’ve been really good up until now. Understated, mature, that kind of thing. I’ve said things like, “That’s great, isn’t it?” and “Gosh, how really well deserved that latest award is.”

But, damn it all, it deserves a little more. It deserves a jumping up and down, doesn’t it?

I’ve known Sally Rooney since she was quite young and we’ve been pals for a long, long time. That might sound a bit odd because, you know, she’s young and I’m old but it’s not odd at all. We both liked writing and reading and doing plays and stuff and our families knew each other in a number of different ways. Sally was in - what was it? - I’ll say four of my plays and she came to the local writer’s group every couple of weeks. The first thing we did was write a little radio play together, her and a group of kids her age, and then we performed and recorded it. Once, at an open mic thing, when I was stuck for someone to read a little two-hander play of mine with me, she stepped in, sight-unseen, and read the shit out of it. The earlier posts on this very blog are peppered with her encouraging comments.

Fond memories, all.

And she dreamed a dream of writing. And she wrote. And she beat the world with her writing. The whole damn world.

And I just think it’s fucking fantastic. It makes me want to jump up and down. It makes me want to bake a cake and put candles on it and blow them all out. It makes me want to get a pinata and hang it up and thump it with a stick and eat all the sweets that fall out of it.

I’ve been good up until now but this is not a time for being good. It’s a time for jumping up and down.

I can feel proud too. Well, I feel proud whether I’m supposed to or not. I feel proud because I knew she was a great writer at a time where I think only she and I knew it. I used to joke with her that we were the two best writers in Mayo and I always knew I was only ever fifty per cent right but, man, was I ever fifty percent, right?

When she got into Trinity and was able to study English Literature, I was sure that something wonderful would result. I sent her a quote on one of these social media things, “Sail on silver girl, sail on by.” The Castlebar phase of the writing development was over. This fledgling genius friend of mine was now going away to soak up the best stuff that literature had to offer and to take it and meld it with her own natural brilliance. It was almost inevitable that something bold would ensue from all of this. Almost inevitable, mind, not inevitable. For these things to work out, it’s not enough to be brilliant. There also has to perseverance and commitment and faith and hope in copious measure.

Hang on. Let me jump up and down for a minute.

That’s better.

“Look at this git”, some might say, “prattling on about his involvement in this wonderful story. Trying to get a few more clicks on his blog off the back of the success of his friend.” Nah. You’re missing the point. I’m not suggesting I actually did anything. I didn’t do anything. When Sally came to the writing group as a teenager, she was already a fine writer and the seeds of the work she would come to do were already well planted. So, no, I didn’t do 'nuttin' for nobody' and I know it. But, wait, strike that, I did do one thing. I saw her coming, from a long way off, I saw that. I can be pleased about that, can’t I?

Another part of the joy is that Sally remains such a lovely person through it all. She is kind and self-effacing and generous and considerate as well as being colossally smart. And yet another part of the joy of it all is the thread of steel that runs through her. An unerring sense of social injustice. A willingness to pursue the argument when she knows she’s on the right side of it. A barely contained rage against many of the awful things in our world.

She’s a good person and good people don’t always beat the world like this.

So. Here. I. Am. Jumping. Up. And. Down.

And those people who look at Sally now and who say, “She’s going to do amazing things in the future.” To those people, who I know only mean well, I have to say, “Wake up!”. Look around you. Totally amazing things have already been done. If Sally never wrote another word, she has already written herself into the league of literary heavyweights. You read her books and the stories stay with you but it’s the building blocks of those stories, the thoughts, the phrases, the ideas, these are the things that tickle our subconscious and let us know that there is more going on here than just a narrative.

Sally’s life isn’t perfect. That’s not any kind of insight. Nobody’s life is perfect. There will be stress and worry and pain and trouble, just as there is with all of us. Wanting to be a writer and then becoming a wonderful one does not guarantee anyone a blissful existence or any kind of happy ever after.

But it is still something amazing. Something rare. An ambition fulfilled. A battle won. A real-life dream-come-true. It may not be everything but it is certainly something. Something really, really big. And it warrants a little more than the polite pleasure I’ve been expressing up until now.

It warrants a bit of jumping up and down.

Well done Sally, you’ve only gone and beaten the entire whole wide world.

I just couldn’t be more delighted.

Dear Nice Lady, Dear Kind Man


Dear Nice Lady, Dear Kind Man,

I am writing to you here because I could not speak to you in person. You were gone too quickly after your acts of kindness towards me and there was neither the time nor the opportunity for chat. Although you will never see this, I thought I should write it for my own good and also in case someone who has never done me such a kindness might read it and know never to do such a kindness themselves.

What did you do that was so kind and yet so terrifyingly dangerous that I hope to never see anyone do it again? 

What could it be?

Well, it’s not much really. Only a little thing. A passing moment in a busy day. But still, without any shadow of a doubt, a true act of kindness. A moment of unselfish generosity. A moment of reaching out and caring for someone you never saw before and who you will probably never see again. Let’s hold that in our minds, as I proceed to tear it all apart. How truly kind a thing it was to do.

I imagine you reading this now, wondering, “Could this be me? Was I the kind one? What did I do?”

You waved me across the street, that’s essentially what you did. And I appreciate you doing it. Can’t you tell? I just hope against hope that you never ever do it again.

I should explain.

Down in the town, somewhere between my house and my office, there is a very busy road. The cars in both directions are a pretty constant stream and the people inside them rarely look left of right, so intent are they on their destinations and the insulated worlds in which they sit.

Luckily, to help with crossing this road, there is a pedestrian crossing. It’s not a fancy zebra or pelican or any animal like that. It’s just a traffic light, green orange red, and a green and a red man for the pedestrians to know when to cross.

I have seen awful things at this pedestrian crossing. Cars that sail through the red light at speed, their drivers having no apparent clue that the light is even there. Mostly those drivers are on their phones, chattering away or, God help us, texting furiously, their face down deep into the steering wheel. Once, an oncoming car stopped righteously on the red and, as I was walking across, the car behind that one overtook it and tore through the red light, very nearly taking me with it.

These terrible things anger or irritate me, depending on what type of day I am having. Sometimes I shrug it off and carry on with my day. Sometimes I shout after the light-breaking fool and flip them an angry finger. Mostly I’m alarmed as I envisage what might happen as a result of this behaviour. Because I’m fairly okay, really, I’m a grown man who has navigated impossible traffic in London and Bangkok and Sydney. I can handle your ill behaviour. But this particular pedestrian light is on the route to and from school for so many young kids. When the little man goes green on the light, and they step out into the melee, do they know that the car bearing down on them might not be inclined to stop? It is a worry.

But, Dear Lady and Kind Man, you are the polar opposite of these maniacs. You are possibly the last caring people in the world and here I am about to put you down. I’m sorry but it’s for all of our own good.

Here’s how I met you.

It’s an awful day. The rain really pelting down. I arrive at the pedestrian crossing, just wanting to be home. I push the button and there’s a wait. There’s always a wait. The traffic is busy and demanding and it doesn’t grind to a halt easily.

So I wait.

And then, Nice Lady and Kind Man, here you come. Not together of course. You are separated by months and sometimes years but still here you come. You see me from your car when hardly anyone ever sees me and you see that it’s raining and that I’m getting wet and you note that you are warm and dry in your car and you do it. You do the most decent thing that anyone will probably do anywhere in that day. You slow your car and you stop. You smile at me warmly and you wave me across.

But the light is still green.

You shouldn’t be stopped. You shouldn’t be waving me across the road.

The road to hell is paved (or, in this case, tarmacked) with good intentions.

You mean well, you mean the very best, but you have to become aware that with your kindness and good intentions you are possibly waving me onward to my doom. The light is still green and the cars behind you may not be able to go anywhere but the cars coming in the other direction see only the green light and they know nothing of me being waved warmly across the road.

You mean well but you are killing me.

At first, I smiled warmly at you and waved you onward. And you went, obviously baffled at my lack of acceptance of your kind offer. But, as time went on, and more and more of your lovely kind appeared, I became ever more frustrated and even angry. As with the non-stopping fools on their phones, I thought of the kid on his way home from school. I thought of you stopping and smiling and waving him out into the gloom and the faint glow of the green light. I thought of the car roaring the other direction, impervious to the child marching out into their path.

These days, when you stop on the green light and smilingly wave me across, I tend to back off as if you have attacked me. I tend to scowl and I try to look mean and upset. I don’t do this to be mean. You can’t hear me in your car and it would take too long for me to try to explain and I would probably terrify you if I tried to do so. All I can do is try to show some visible annoyance at your kind offer and hope against hope that you might suddenly realise why that might be. I don’t think I’ve ever succeeded in this.

So thank you Dear Nice Lady and Dear Kind Man. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and kindness and warmth. But please, don’t stop when you have a green light and please don’t wave me across. It may be the worst kindness you will ever do.

Have a nice day, though.

Thanks for seeing me there.