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MUSINGS The Garden Volcano

Life can be as unpredictable as a ball bouncing back from an uneven wall.
Life can be as unpredictable as a ball bouncing back from an uneven wall. 

The garden volcano

The Circling Fin
Fin Keegan

When I was a boy, living on a road with neighbours the age of my grandparents, I often had recourse to kicking a ball against the back wall for hours at a time. Much to my irritation at the time, our back wall was irregular, so I never knew at exactly what angle the football would be coming back to me. Sometimes the ball shot over my head and sometimes it burst on the spot. Playing football with a bumpy wall was none too relaxing, but it did teach me something valuable about life: Be ready to jump.
In the world that those middle-class neighbours of my childhood had grown up in, life didn’t change much from year to year. Unless they had a drink problem or some medical mishap, they could safely assume that a professional qualification or good position would probably see them safely through to retirement.
Not so now. One of the consequences of globalisation is that you don’t know what might happen next. Our everyday lives are subject to everything from German economic policy to Chinese currency manipulation.
The Icelandic volcano of a few years back was a vivid example. Out of the blue, a remote mountain wrought havoc on lives and livelihoods all around us. Only volcanologists understood  the origin of the mayhem, but the rest of us got to know all about Eyjafjallajökull’s power, as supply chains, business arrangements and overseas trips were disrupted.
Whether it be exploding wilderness, pirates on shipping lanes or disaffected hackers in suburban bedrooms, we now employ a growing army of specialists to trace and explain the causation for us. But, explicable or not, we all know the result: Something else in our lives not working out the way we had hoped for – and perhaps even banked upon. With the stroke of a key, any of a multinational corporation employing hundreds, thousands even, could leave in the morning. Stroke the keyboard a different direction and tourism rises by 50 per cent. Or unemployment could be halved. There’s no full telling what will happen next.
Fr Trendy used to point out that life was like a hurley stick. Now he might say life is more like a lightsaber, an unpredictably powerful force that can bring down an empire or, conversely, slice you to bits if you are careless or unlucky. Outside of Stone Age tribes and the super-wealthy, we are all increasingly vulnerable in increasingly complex ways.
The upshot is that one of the necessary arts of modern living is being ready to cope with the utterly unexpected, as though kicking a ball against an irregular wall – all the while keeping an eye on the volcano behind the rosebush.

Fin Keegan is a writer based in Westport. This column is based on his weekly radio essay, heard on WRFM and CRC radio, and online at thecirclingfin.com.