The Invisible Castle

In the year of our Lord, 1858, the Shirleys of Lough Fea boasted that their estate house contained the largest room in County Monaghan. The honour was not secure, however—a nearby Baron, Lord Rossmore, was determined to claim it for himself. He extended the drawing room of Rossmore Castle to steal the distinction from them. But the rivalry wasn’t over. Lord Rossmore had to extend the drawing room five times to stay ahead of the Shirleys’ relentless construction, and in the end his drawing room still came in second to their Great Hall.

Even though it lacked the largest room in the county, no one could deny that Rossmore Castle was beautiful, built as it was on top of a hill with a panoramic view and 117 windows to see it through (the Shirleys only had 96). Its towers and turrets looked as if they had been lifted straight out of a fairytale illustration, even more so when there was a party on, and there were a lot of parties. The guest lists were star-studded as well—the Prince of Wales was a personal friend of Lord Rossmore. But, as can happen in fairytales, the castle vanished. This had more to do with dry rot than magic, but the effect was the same.

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What Star Trek Missed

I grew up when Star Trek: The Next Generation was popular, and now I’ve lived to see many of their imagined technologies become real. We’re still not quite there on warp drives or teleporters, but we’re getting closer to the holodeck with virtual reality, and we already have touchscreens, computers you can control with your voice, wireless communication that is constantly available, and handheld devices that can do all sorts of things. I’ve lived to see yesterday’s science fiction become today’s reality.

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The Dog Knew Better

I grew up beside a mountain in Alabama, with a dog. If you want a happy childhood, that’s a good start. Sometimes the dog and I would go up the mountain, just us, with no particular destination in mind. There was always something interesting up there—little run-off streams and rock outcroppings, sunlight through leaves and the awareness of being among innumerable living things. We stayed together, but not too close. The dog and I were interested in different things, probably because I couldn’t smell as well as she could. Still, we stayed within sight, and if I decided to explore in a different direction all I had to say was “Cinnamon, I’m going this way” and she would change course without complaining. I guess there were smells to discover anywhere we went.

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The Importance Of Not Being Original

Some things are worth saying over and over again. I’m sure that’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating. At our house, we said  “sit down” and “eat your food” so often that my wife started saying those phrases in Irish, just to break the monotony. Still, we knew that saying it over and over again was the only way to get to the point of not having to say it over and over again.

But there are some things we’ll never get to that point with. There are some things that will need to be said as long as there are people on Earth. The reason for this is that us humans tend to forget basic truths almost as soon as we remember them. We work and fight and kill each other to right some horrible wrong like genocide, oppression, or slavery, then turn around and create new ways of doing the exact same things, like abortion, police brutality, or human trafficking. Each victory bleeds into a new battle, where we have to say the same old truths all over again, like “all people are valuable” and “all men are created equal”.

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My Favourite Graveyard

One of my favourite places near our house is a little graveyard up the hill behind our village. Yes, I know how odd that sounds. I don’t even have relatives there; I know nothing about the people buried in that small patch of ground except what is written on their monuments and of course that they used to live where I live and breathe the same air and somebody cared enough about them to put up a stone in their honour. 

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Tears For My Enemies

As he rounded the corner, the view opened up and he saw the city in front of him, perched proud and confident on its hill, like a king enthroned. At the highest point stood the Temple, glistening gold in the sun, reflecting off the tears on his face:

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes…”

This was the city that rejected him. This was the golden Temple he would cleanse in righteous anger. These were the people who would shout “crucify him!” and make fun of him as he died. These were the people who would pierce his heart, and these were the people who broke it.

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You Don’t Have To Own It To Enjoy It

We found a rope swing near our house. It’s hanging from a tree that is not on our property, in a field that is empty and waiting for development. Our neighbours showed us how to find the path where people walk their dogs, where the one tree stands alone in the middle of wide open green—a green studded with more wildflowers than we would have thought possible.

It’s not our garden, but our children can run there.

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I Feel It On Sundays The Most

We’re later than we intended to be, but we’re still early. It’s our turn to help set up. The children take chairs from me as I bring out the stacks, then there’s the projector and the microphone, plus I need to run through the music with the others. We won’t have much time, but we never do, and we always manage to pull it off. We joke that if our band had a name, it would be A Wing And A Prayer.

Only a few minutes before we start, and familiar faces are smiling their greetings from across the room. As the hum of conversation grows, I see my children playing with their friends in the aisles between the chairs—are they being too loud? I see a few people slip into a side room to pray before we start. Through another door, I catch the movement of busy preparations in the kitchen, teas and coffees don’t make themselves, and they’ll be needed straightaway after the service. 

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Yes

You wouldn’t notice it, if you walked by. It’s just a tree, next to an old house on a university campus. There’s a nice view from the hill, so you’d look at that, not a random tree. But I go there for the tree. To me, that tree, with the ground under it, is sacred.

Twice, I sat at a table under this tree. Twice, I set the table up and decorated it and prepared it for a surprise and a question. Twice, I worked up my courage to ask a question at the table under the tree, and both times I heard the same answer, the answer that changed my life:

Yes!

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Kicking In Doors Is Harder Than It Looks In The Movies

The door was stuck.

My two sons (3 and 1 at the time) had locked themselves inside the bathroom, and the stakes were high: the younger one had an ongoing problem where he would hold his breath and pass out if he got too upset. He got upset a lot, but one of us had always been there to bring him back around. What would happen if he passed out inside the locked bathroom..?

“Don’t worry, boys, we’re right here”

I used my happy voice, and tried to explain to the older one how to put the key in the door and turn it. It didn’t work. A few more tries, knowing that there was only one other option. 

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