Coming downstairs this morning, I turned up the heat and started to fill the kettle. Looking out the window it was a dark, cold, miserable, dull morning with a wild sea. Not unusual of late, but this morning it dripped of pathetic fallacy. Because this morning was different because it followed a day like yesterday, and yesterday was no ordinary day.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that island life ticks along at a steady pace. All days similar, people going about their daily work like every other day, the weather being the main topic of discussion, fishing boats and cargo boats frequenting the pier, passenger boats and planes transporting people to and from, children off to school and the odd cow on the road. The ebb and flow of island life. I also tend to take this alternative life over here as steady and safe.
I was out in the kitchen yesterday afternoon, when I noticed the distinct thunderous sound of the rescue helicopter. I won’t lie, I normally dread this particular sound, as unless it passes over it means only one thing – somebody has been hurt, is ill or is missing. Almost without fail, I would go outside and follow it across the sky to reassure myself that it was not landing over at the strip, and when it doesn’t land and heads towards Clare, I exhale and take myself inside for a cup of tea.
I went to the window and saw it – it was low, its lights were on and it was heading directly towards my house. I picked up Eims and took her outside to look at it, as it had now stopped midair and was hovering just past the gable end of the house. I thought it must be doing training, as often happens when the 4.30 boat leaves for Galway. I even took a couple of pictures of it, as it is rarely that close. But then I noticed that it was past half four, it was heading towards five. What was it doing? Then I received the message. Someone was missing since the morning. Everything sort of stopped. Because this person was someone that I’d see passing a hundred times a day. Someone who was one of the first people I met when I first came here. Someone that all you’d have to do was pick up the phone and he would be there to help. As someone so eloquently put this morning, he belonged to everyone. He belonged to Inis Oirr. And it was as if she knew he was missing. The rescue helicopter continued to search around the island’s waters, while the selfless rescue and coastguard groups set off in haste. Traffic flew past along the road out to where his van was. It was as if Inis Oirr sent out her long fingers into the rough waters further and further relentlessly searching for the man that belonged to her and to the community. And as it started to darken, and winds started to howl, she found him. I stood at a wall nearby watching as the lifeboat returned to the pier.
And while a deep impossible unexplainable sadness descended onto the island last night, there may have been just the smallest bit of comfort in the fact that although he may be gone, he was not lost. She returned him home.
RIP Sean/Jack xxx