By Bruce Northam



(Athea, Ireland)

One way of diminishing slander is by imitating the hawk. When battered by crows or other pests, it doesn’t return battle, opting instead to fly higher and higher in ever-widening circles until the pests bother elsewhere.

My grandmother Mary was born out of wedlock in 1904 in ultra-Catholic Ireland when there were few greater sins than birth before marriage. Then 14, her mother was not allowed to marry the equally young father because the shamed families wouldn’t allow it. Thus, my great-grandmother was soon banished to Australia, and her daughter Mary was raised by relatives in Athea, a tiny Irish village.

Some of the people in Athea regarded Mary with disdain. Although she was a happy child, the gossip in the countryside community made her the target of rumors, and some classmates and their parents snubbed her. When her mother married and settled in Australia, she wrote to Mary repeatedly, asking her to join her there. However, the letters were intercepted and destroyed by relatives to prevent her from leaving.

During their childhood, Mary’s neighbor and friend, who decades later became my grandfather, James O’Sullivan, was sympathetic to her plight and thought of her as a lovely lass. James served as an Irish Republic Army Captain in the 1916 battle for Ireland’s independence. He sailed the Atlantic Ocean in 1922 to lay railroads in Canada, and then lived in Montana to experience the cowboy lifestyle.

Eventually, my grandfather settled in New York City and opened O’Sullivan’s Chophouse, a tavern and restaurant that became northern Manhattan’s off-the-boat Gaelic Mecca, and featured the longest mahogany bar in the city. Never forgetting his first true love, James reunited with Mary once the bar was up and running. As their courtship blossomed, the 19-year-old beauty with a heart of gold was liberated. They soon married and raised six daughters and a son on Long Island.

It wasn’t until she was in her seventies that my grandmother confessed to one of her daughters the grief she carried alone for all those years—never burdening her children or feeling sorry for herself. Being a wonderful mother and wife trumped all. She was loved and admired by everyone who knew her; no one ever knew of the longing she must have endured for her own mother. During her triumphant 1980’s return to Ireland with her children, she was warmly welcomed by the surviving members of her mother’s family. She never knew her mother, but that didn’t prevent her from creating a love-filled life.

Your truth is what you do with it.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Adversity makes things stronger. There is a 5,000 year-old bristlecone pine hugging Nevada’s side of the White Mountains. It’s the oldest known living tree on earth. The tree grows on the north-facing slope of the immense peak, which when compared to its south-facing slope, faces much harsher environmental conditions, including less sun, more wind, more snow, and longer winters. That’s rising to the occasion, in tree-speak.

*from: THE DIRECTIONS TO HAPPINESS: A 135-Country Quest for Life Lessons

Bruce Northam's photo.