Prologue Ireland - 2017.
The old man was staring across at me, his eyes glittering in the firelight.
“So, you’re thirty-eight years of age and your life is in tatters.” He smiled. “You’re a fortunate man.”
“Fortunate? I lose everything I own, and you consider that fortunate? This is a catastrophe for Christ’s sake!”
“Settle down now, boy, settle down.” He leaned forward and placed another log on the fire, “Take a good look at yourself. You were sick of the job, it was meaningless, you said as much yourself. What have you lost? The marriage? It was no use to either of you the way it was. Sure, you were driving the poor woman mad with your advertising nonsense. The house in Australia? It wasn’t even yours. The Mercedes? No, that was just an arrogance on wheels.”
Maybe he’s mad, I thought, Maybe that’s why he’s always alone.
“What you lost was an illusion, boy, the illusion of being a big shot.”
“You’ve no idea what you’re talking about.” My heart was beginning to race. “I worked bloody hard in that business.”
But he continued on as if I hadn’t spoken.
“Your life fell apart through lack of meaning. What value was your work? To anyone but yourself, that is. And your marriage is in tatters because you put your career ahead of your family.” He pointed the stem of his pipe at me, “But listen to me now, and listen well. With all your problems and all your woes, what you are now calling a catastrophe would be better understood as a calling.” He stared across, his dark green eyes clear and bright. “Do you understand that?”
“No, I don’t!” I grabbed the poker and began stabbing at the logs, sparks flying up the ancient, soot caked chimney. What are saying? You think I’m working in the wrong career, is that it?”
“That’s not for me to say.” He took a sip of tea before going on. “But now you’ll be forced to take a good look at yourself. That’s why I say you’re fortunate. Most of your kind stagger on for years in jobs they hate, ignoring their wives and families, trading their souls for an illusory sense of security while sinking deeper into mediocrity each year.”
I tossed the poker back on the hearth.
“That might be fine for you, but some of us have to live in the real world too you know.”
But he just shook his head and continued.
“Others become addicted to the almighty dollar. Trapped in the delusion that the fancy cars and inflated expense accounts will bring them lasting happiness whilst they avoid doing anything of value in the world.” He raised his eyes to meet mine, and I was struck by the fearlessness of his gaze. “Self-centered fools preying on a crippled planet.”
“What did you mean by a Calling?” I said.
“Your Calling, boy. Your purpose in life. Your gift. Call it what you will.”
“Who are you?” I said, “You’re not from the island, are you?”
But again, he just ignored me, staring into the flames as if lost in a dream…
I’m not sure when first I realized that the life I’d been living was over, but I know that when it came, it came clearly; some internal imperative warning me I was wasting the best years of my life.
And yet every time I thought of the island an irrational hope surged in my heart, some inner sense of longing drawing me backward towards the unknown. Over a period of just a few months, memories and images came to me in a dozen different ways. Appearing in a newspaper article one morning, and then in a casual conversation with a stranger that same afternoon. The following week, I met a young woman from Inis Mór on a busy Sydney street, and then, a few days later, I ran into her again at a Halloween party. Synchronistic events that brought the island back into focus.
At first, I tried to dismiss it all as coincidence, but when I received a letter from my grandmother saying that she was dying and wanted to see me, I knew there was more to it than that. As I traced her spidery handwriting on the single sheet of pale cream foolscap, I felt a vague pang of remorse.
I pray to God you might receive this letter in time. I have been ill for some while now and know I’m not long for this world. I have no fear of death, only some regrets that I need to address. If you are to read these words before I pass, please come home. There is something you must know
As I stared down at the cryptic message, an age-old memory stirred within. A tall, handsome, grey-haired woman standing upright and alone beside a cottage gate, the sea behind her dark blue with white-capped waves.
I tossed the letter back on the table. The idea was ridiculous. I hadn’t seen my grandmother since childhood, the memories tarnished by the bitterness of a long-standing family feud. But that night as I lay restless on my bed, thinking back to earlier, simpler days, the words of a poem began running through my mind. Not a poem that I knew, but a series of lines already formed, whispering up from some unconscious source, pulling at the edges of my mind, demanding and insistent as a child. The words spoke of the island, of going back, tumbling out across a mind unfettered by thought…
I lost my way long years ago, I faltered, and I strayed
I turned away from those I loved these choices I have made
But now at night I wonder, could I return once more?
Could I return to what I was by the cliffs at Inis Mór?
As the words faded I was transported back to the last time I’d ever seen the island, falling away behind me in the mist from the deck of an ancient Irish ferry, on a winter’s day some thirty years before, and I knew in my heart that my destiny lay there, whatever that destiny would be.