The Honey Jar


I was sitting in Dublin airport, looking out through acres of glass windows at the procession of exiting jets; at summer’s blue skies with their cotton wool clouds; the tableau of distant landscape moulded by centuries of habitation – and seeing all around me the scurrying crowds, the endless flowing stream of lives unfolding. Feeling the strange vacuity of travellers and wanderers in our hyphen between departing and arriving.  We were like a swarm of bees converging on their aerial hive, laden with our pollen of suitcases and expectations, then winging away again in ones and twos into the huge garden of the world.

My own departure now, up and away to Gatwick. Below me England is a jig saw puzzle of ragged farms, a quilt of greens and furrowed tawny browns, fields dotted with the spoils of summer’s gathered hay, hedgerows and emerald coloured pastures, forest tracts and the black specks of cattle like handfuls of tossed seed. And dim coastal towns huddled against the tide, and the tiny furrowed wakes of pleasure craft scooting about on tidal estuaries and brown seas.

At my ongoing departure gate I sit next to an unkempt elderly man, his deeply lined face like that of the poet W.H. Auden. He peers at the world like an old disapproving tortoise, the lined face above the swivelling neck. He notices my ragtag Peace Run  t-shirt and tells me all such efforts at peace are futile. We talk a little about the world situation , the to and fro of  travellers – he is oblivious of the other passengers and speaks  in a loud voice. His son stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan and died at the age of 22. They sent home his gathered bits in a child’s small box coffin. He asks me, have you ever lost someone you really loved?  Yes, I tell him, but he does not enquire.

When I heard my son was gone I stayed in my room for a week, he tells both me and his now attentive audience. I walked round and round in circles in my grief.  I couldn’t bear to stay alive.  Something died inside me. My boy had given me a big jar of honey for my birthday, a last gift, and I kept spooning it into my mouth, a meaningless, absurd act of consolation and remembering – my face was covered in tears and honey. I kept calling out his name as though to bring him back.

Now from his wallet he shows a picture and we dutifully crowd around to see – the son that died far from home is looking past the camera, smiling as though at another, or at some private thought. He is not in his fatal battle dress but a startling blue shirt, looks away into the distance with the optimism of the young.

When we board the plane I have an empty seat adjoining mine and no one is there to talk to me. But all the way across the Atlantic sea I remember the strange pathos of the dead son’s honey jar, picturing the sobbing father spooning the golden sweet syrup of the bees into his mouth, the bereaved man’s lined and wretched face, his hopelessness, and the endless sticky tears…..