Our 1 in 400 Trillion Shot

In the journey of self-discovery perhaps the most amazing revelation is just how improbable it is that you ever got to be a self at all.

What are the odds of ever being born?

One in 400 trillion.

Wow. Indeed, we did win the lottery the day we were blessed with the opportunity to take our place on the tree of life. 

For me, once I fully appreciated how lucky I was I began what has seemed like a relentless journey to figure out my role on my tree.

This question eventually took me to the land of my ancestors on the windswept western coast of Ireland when I was 28 years old.

I tracked down Nora Moriarty, the oldest living member of my clan. She knew my grandfather, my great grandfather and even my great great grandfather — the guy who survived the potato famine of the 1840’s.

On the day we met a fierce storm raged over Bantry Bay. As Nora poured me a cup of Irish black tea I marveled at how well she kept her 250-year-old cottage — the same cottage four generations of Moriartys called home.

I couldn’t help but imagining my great great grandparents serving their family seaweed to survive the great famine, or the moment my grandfather announced he was leaving for America, probably never to return. 

In Nora I had found a living connection to the land, people and stories that had gone into making me the man I was.

But who was this man?

I learned first of the history of how for generations my clansmen had eked out a living on barren lands on the Beara Peninsula and the roiling seas of the Atlantic Ocean.

Their life was terrifyingly difficult, a thousand times more difficult than mine. I learned how a low cloud had hung over the island for a thousand years.

  • The British dominated their public life. 
  • The Catholic Church dominated their private lives.

Life was first about surviving and then about celebration, which they did often. The Moriarty clan were clearly masters in the fine arts of singing, dancing, storytelling and partaking in poitin, Irish moonshine, which they called “the water of life.”

Nora’s storytelling brought home to me how I too would always be a “peasant boy.”

The kid who’d grown up in a thatched cottage filled with children and animals and potato peels and poitin.

Who for a thousand years had

  • battled hunger 
  • herded sheep
  • prayed the rosary
  • savored whiskey 

This place was my place, these were my people, their history was my history. 

Here in this green and barren landscape I learned:

  • I didn’t invent myself 
  • I might be unusual but hardly unique
  • I wasn’t born into a vacuum 

Then, just as I was preparing to leave, the conversation took a frightening turn. Nora stood up, took hold of both my shoulders, looked me straight in the eye and asked, Now, Paddy boy, will you answer me this: do you drink, boy, do you drink?”

I froze for a minute and finally I stuttered out:

 “Yes, Nora, I do.”

She then looked away and quietly murmured an ancient Irish lament for the soon-to-be-departed.

Aaah, begorra, caoineadh.”

She pointed to the back room where her 70-year-old son Johnny lived, a room he’d resided in since infancy.

Johnny lived in a kind of shadow-land between the sheep he tended and the poitin to which he had utterly surrendered.

The only thing I saw of him was his shadow. He never came out of his room to meet me.

Nora walked me to my car, gave me a long hug, and whispered, “I wonder what will become of ye, lad.”

I knew the source of her doubt — the “Celtic Curse.”

On my flight home to Chicago I knew my day of reckoning had arrived. I carried in me the Celtic Curse and knew beyond a shadow of doubt, if I did not act, Johnny’s fate awaited me.

I never heard from dear Nora again and can only imagine what became of Johnny.

As for me, I’ve joined others in my clan in breaking the Celtic Curse of alcoholism one day at a time.

There is one thing I’ve learned in taking my one in 400 trillion shot at life:

The ancestral tree to which we were each assigned has a root system we cannot change, but the leaves on the tree are ours to cultivate:

  • some to be fertilized to grow
  • others to be diligently pruned.

Our blessings come from the way we tend our trees.

Just a thought…


Copyright © 2024 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.