Something had changed. He wasn’t acting himself. It was winter 2000 and I was visiting my best friend before the Christmas period or maybe it was Halloween. Not that there ever needed to be a reason for such a visit. I had known Gerald since I was a child. But something had happened since I last saw him that summer and if anything that initial realization is a memory I still vividly recall.
I would always visit during the summer. Like most teenagers we would plan our day around staying in or going out. If we were staying in, did we have enough cigarettes for the night? What film would we rent? Are we sure we don’t want to go out? If we were going out, who else was going out? Did they have drink? Where would we get drink? Are we sure we don’t want to stay in? Did we have enough cigarettes for the night?
Outside of these pressing concerns we would spend the day sleeping in or taking a long walk with the dog. It was on these walks that we would have conversations about anything and everything. We had a connection with each other whereby we could literally finish each other’s sentences. I always felt a release of ideas spill from my mouth and no matter what was said it was always received with understanding and insight by him. Our thoughts and feelings about things seemed so interlinked that I could not imagine a single thought being hidden between us.
But Gerald was having thoughts, deep thoughts and they were increasingly becoming louder and confused with every passing day, week, month and year. By the time I met him again that winter those deep thoughts had a voice and were blocking all others from communicating with him. This was the first noticeable change. Every response to a question was met with a blank stare and uncomfortable pause, before communicating an emotionless one worded answer ‘good,’ ‘yes,’ or ‘no.’ He was probably hungover I thought, maybe a walk would do the trick, that would get it out of him. But our walk was short, our conversation just as similar, with my friend continuing his one worded answers. Then one night that week, watching some sport on TV, he began to cry.
He was unable to say why he was crying, but realized that whatever was upsetting him could no longer be hidden from his family. Things moved fast after that and with every visit thereafter I found Gerald further engrossed with his thoughts, further removed from the person I once knew. But there was little time to reflect on all of this as his condition moved in waves of small improvements to relapses, hope to despair, consuming not just him, but everyone around him. Particularly his immediate family who witness the worst of it.
As the years passed and his condition stabilized, the dramatic change in his personality became more familiar and easier to deal with. Everyone who cared for him found their own way to re-connect.
It took some time for me to find such a connection. I cant reason why. I still held on to the hope that someday he would be ‘better.’ Better, to me, meant the Gerald I knew before 2000. But that was also the same person who kept everything in, who remained silent about it all, about how convoluted his mind had become with images and ideas that disturbed his ability sleep or speak.
No. I should not hope for such a thing. ‘Better’ would be what Gerald wanted. What he wanted to say. What he found a passion for. Where he was happy and at peace with his environment, with himself.
Nature was something both he and I always had a passion for when we were kids. But nature was David Attenborough and Lions in Africa. Bears in Canada, Eagles in America. It certainly was not outside our back door. This attitude to nature changed when I finished college. I became involved in wildlife conservation work in Ireland specifically bird conservation. Birds are an indicator of a healthy environment. If they go other species will soon follow. I became particularly interested in the plight of the Curlew. A wetland bird that has seen its numbers drop by 96% in the last few years nationwide.
Such voluntary work did not perk the imagination of some of my other friends and I found myself increasingly frustrated by my inability to talk about these issues around them. But Gerald was all ears. Curlews lived near his house, he could walk out his front door and see this bird first hand. He was interested to learn about the issues facing this bird and hung on my every word when I spoke about the on-going work to protect them.
When I would visit we would set off, looking for Curlew. If they were not nearby we would go further afield. We would chat at length about all the things we had discovered about, not just the Curlew, but bird ecology in general, pausing in conversation only when we needed to focus our binoculars.
We continue to bird watch to this day. His knowledge, now, far surpassing my own, as he researches any birds we might see on our trips. I should really do the same, but I prefer to listen to him talk of his latest bird fact or discovery. His excitement and passion, when talking about the environment around him enlivens my own interest. This mutual interest has allowed us re-connect, allowed us talk, within an environment that both he and I are intrinsically connected with, and is something, in turn, that betters us both.
Author - Paul Gallagher
This Months blog was written by Meath native Paul Gallagher who is a avid lover of wildlife and has a real passion for birds. He regularly contributes blogs to the Bird Watch Ireland website which can be viewed on there website at the following link - http://birdwatchirelandmeath1.blogspot.ie/
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