Two memoirs on survival and resilience reveal the healing power of the natural world
Memoirs tell the stories of peoples’ lives. They tend to be written by people whom society may perceive to have achieved great things or to have overcome huge obstacles. Yet no human story is without challenge. Just living and being human is a story. My two book choices this week are about survival and resilience in the face of our fallible existences.
‘I am an Island’, by Tamsin Calidas, published by Penguin Random House, tells the story of the ultimate “downshifting” dream. Tasmin and her husband left behind all the madness of city life and the demands of careers, and moved lock, stock and barrel to a remote island in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. What they perhaps hadn’t banked on was exposure. In the shedding of those city demands, one is stripped bare, leaving no place to hide. This is when one’s true self is revealed.
Life was difficult for them as they adapted to a rural, agricultural, island life. Their marriage falls apart, and Tamsin stays alone to continue working the land. As a reader, we may wonder why she didn’t just up and leave at this stage. Yet as the story progresses, we are witness to a kind of rebirth, as she turns to nature to hold her, steady her and revitalise her.
We feel her fear so vehemently at times, as well as her desire to end it all. Yet we sense the absolute absence of self-pity in her tribulations and in their retelling. She pushes through those fears until she finds her true balance.
‘Dochas’ is the Irish word for hope. In her book, ‘Thin Places’, Kerri Ní Dochartaigh informs us that dochas has its ancient roots in the words for belonging, giving and beauty. The book, published by Canongate Books Ltd, is about Kerri’s search for hope in the aftermath of the trauma she experienced in the 1990s, as a child of The Troubles in Derry.
We are starkly reminded of the price of ‘trouble’ and ‘violence’ as Kerri tells her story. She was the child of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother. In that place of division, no side could claim her, and she belonged nowhere. The road back is a long one.
She too looks to nature and its wonders to heal herself. In Irish folklore, butterflies are considered to be the souls of the dead, with the ability to cross into the Otherworld. It is in these myths and ‘thin places’ that she finds the solace to enable vast and quiet shifts in herself.
She speaks so beautifully of our Irish language and the connection its expression gives us to the concept of dochas; the knowing of our place, our belonging and our land. When we have the words, we have hope. Our land is more than the borders we have placed on them. And it would seem Covid has forced us to listen to the sounds of our land as we connect quietly with nature once more.
When reading other people’s stories, we often see our own story reflected in theirs. And in this seeing we are somehow given permission to speak our own truth and find the beauty of life that is ‘dochas’.
Bríd Conroy and her husband Neil Paul run Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other at The Quay, Westport.