'What I do is me: for that I came.' G M Hopkins

Monday, April 16, 2012

Doctor in Philosophia

We did Latin in school. In fact I did O level Latin and managed to pass. Very few schools still offer the classics, and there will be fewer still with the current teacher redundancies and cut-backs, but that’s another story.

My smattering of the ancient language was not enough to allow me to follow all of the proceedings at Friday’s graduation ceremony at Trinity College Dublin. It was a very special and wonderful experience, nonetheless, as we watched our daughter being kitted out in a bright red and yellow gold gown – the symbolic crowning of her academic achievement. She and her fellow PhD graduands went outside into the sunshine and mingled like canaries among crows with the other postgraduates on College Square.

We were surrounded by tourists, many of whom may have been on their way to see Ireland’s finest treasure, the famous Book of Kells, housed in the Trinity library. There are four vellum volumes in all which are gospel accounts, also in Latin, taken from the Vulgate. They were exquisitely crafted by hand, a work of artistic and spiritual devotion by Irish monks somewhere from the late 8th to the early 9th centuries. These combine Western calligraphy with ornate swirling motifs typical of Insular art, also in gold and vermillion. Many of the decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism. It’s a few years since I saw the exhibit, but I recall being deeply moved by the image of the snake struggling free from its scales. It spoke to me then of the process of being constantly renewed. I thought of it again as I watched the students donning robes like a new skin representing a transition from one stage and status to the next.

The bell tolled as we took our seats and then we heard the applause of the tourists outside who witnessed the brightly coloured procession led by the Provost across the cobblestones and into the 200 year old Great Hall. When her name was called, Maria stepped onto the raised dais and her doctorate was conferred in Latin. Then the Pro-Chancellor shook her hand and said, ‘Congratulations, Dr Morrison, very well done.’ Talk about proud parents!

Traditionally, the award of a degree signified a step from one level of responsibility to another in the art of disputation. The recipient commenced a higher role in the search for knowledge and understanding, so the degree ceremony is known as Commencements. The shocking thing is that only girls are capped because it is believed that men will continue to learn, discover and be amazing; the women, however, are presumed to have reached the ceiling of their learning and are expected to be satisfied and return to the kitchen sink.

My daughter’s thesis examined A Role for Type III Interferons in the Natural Killer Cell Immune Response to Virus. Me neither. Kitchen sink, I don’t think. Congratulations, Maria!

The Pro-Chancellor presents ‘meos filios’ (my sons and daughters) to the Chancellor as worthy not only because of ability, but also because of character. There will always be room for growth and becoming.

The Pro-Chancellor conferred the honours ‘ominis vero fausti felicisque in futurum’ (as an earnest of future success and happiness). This was an echo of the words of Psalm 20 which I have been praying for Maria since her childhood: 'May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.'

The Commencements were adjourned ‘in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti’.
To him be the glory!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Good Day

Friday was good. Good Friday. Very good. Strange name for a day which commemorates a good man dying a criminal’s death stretched across a cross – a cruel execution. Of course, if Jesus wasn’t good then he was bad or mad.

Friday was very good for me because it came after Thursday. On Thursday I wasn’t sure if I’d see Friday dawn. Thursday was nearly my last day on earth. The man and I were involved in a horrible road traffic accident. Apart from seat belt aches and pains, we were miraculously uninjured, as was the other driver who crawled from the mangled wreckage after crossing the road upon impact, felling a wall and ending up facing the direction from which he’d come.

As I knelt on the grass verge in humble gratitude for the deep, if painful, breaths I was breathing, I allowed myself to momentarily imagine my children receiving phone calls to say that their parents had both been tragically killed. Not wise, imagining the worst, especially when the good has just happened. We were saved to live and laugh another day. A good day. Good Friday.

So now we can enjoy the new arrival in our family with even greater joy and celebration. I became a grandmother three weeks ago. Finlay George swam his way out of the birthing pool just before breakfast on 15 March to the delight of proud parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all. People keep asking me how I feel about being a granny. What exercises me much more is that my baby girl is a mother. She whom I nestled and nursed is now nursing herself and making decisions about the care and welfare of another totally dependent human being. It’s as if there is a queue moving forward and someone has joined the line at the back and we’re now closer to the front. The front of what, I’m not sure.

Whoever is watching over us hasn’t finished with us yet. There are things to do that we have not yet done; there are people to be that we have not yet become.

Thank you for Finlay George and thank you for a good day to be parents and grandparents. Thank you that Finn will know me and that I will know him and watch him grow into the fair-haired warrior that his name promises.

'From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny.'

A Happy Easter!