Remembering Gareth

[This post was written on March 7th but I was unable to post on that day.]

When I was 11 years old I visited the ruins of a monastery. It was not big nor majestic. It had no particular historical or religious significance that I know of. It was just a small, simple monastery a few miles outside of a tiny village in rural Ireland. The ruined monastery is surrounded by an old graveyard. Most of the graves are quite dilapidated and crumbling. Many have toppled over and others are so worn with age that they are unreadable.

The day I first visited this cemetery was 8th March, 1987. My father was keen to show us the grave that he spotted as a boy. It stood, hunched over, at the gate of the cemetery. Its inscription left its mark on my father and his brothers and, I must admit, me too. It read

Good men all as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I
As I now am, so you will be
Remember death and pray for me.

Powerful stuff!

However, that was not the grave that made the most impact on me. No, there was another which found its way into my heart. It stood out as being tall and proud. It looked like a fresh headstone. It was white and almost glistened in the sun. Yet, on closer inspection, it was not entirely untouched by the ravages of time. There was quite a bit of lichen on it and some of the inscription was worn. However, I could read enough of it that I instantly made a connection to the person interred therein.

His name was Gareth Nolan. He was from Crap Hill (now named Crop Hill). He had died on 7th March 1763. That meant the anniversary of his death was literally the day before. I think that’s one of the reasons why it stuck in my mind so much. I have no connection to this man. I liked how his headstone had resisted the elements unlike all those around it. I liked how it told of his life. I liked that I visited it close to his anniversary. I like that I found it when the rest of my family was looking at other graves or the monastery ruins. I felt like Gareth was my friend. …and the 11 year old me liked that he was from Crap Hill!

I remember him on this day every year and I say a prayer for him.  This year is a bit different. My little baby has now turned 8 months old on the anniversary of Gareth’s death and the thought that keeps coming to me is that Gareth, the old man from Crap Hill who died 252 years ago, was once somebody’s little baby. He was once cradled in someone’s arms the way I hold my little darling. He was soft and vulnerable long before he reached his ripe old age and left this world all those years ago.

We were all little and soft and vulnerable and needing care. We all had to rely on someone to love us and nurture us. The most evil people were once cradled in arms and loved unconditionally. The most intelligent people were once unable to string a sentence together. The strongest people once couldn’t sit up without help.

Perhaps it’s worth remembering that there’s a little bit of that baby still inside each of us.

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