Bring joy to the lives of those who sit beneath our shadow

In his popular reflection 'Let the Busy World be Hushed', Fr Jason Murphy weaves a beautiful tale of how one's live can enrich so many others, however long or short...

The breeze blew the petals from off the old cherry tree that has stood for nigh on sixty years and there the petals blown in the wind covered the ground with a carpet of pink o’er which the hearse carrying the remains of the old woman Gretta Brady drove to the door of the funeral home. Therein people gathered to pay their last respects to one who brought such joy and laughter to people’s lives in her thatched home outside the village of Milltown for near on ninety years.

Outside as its branches swayed in the breeze the old cherry tree had begun to show its age and so too its life was slowly ebbing to its close. All gnarled and worn from many years of sunshine and showers, frost and snow and wind and rain, it was planted as a young sapling in what was then a beautiful garden tended with such care by the Bullet Rudden before the swathes of tarmac took over outside what was the Irish Shoes Supplies factory. To here, the toll of factory horn called not slow moving hearses but people, full of life, distinguishable by their youth, from houses all across the town who walked on foot, in their hundreds, along the railway line, from out and over Erne Hill and on bicycles from all the townlands around, to gather in the various manufacturing departments there, the names of which gave a sense of belonging to the young people who worked therein; stiffeners and wood heels, plastic and wedge heels, insoles and shanks, spraying, lasts and toe-puffs. Here they gathered, each morning from their slumbers when the ‘Bullet’ sounded the horn, in this newly built factory with its lawns and flower gardens and the line of cherry blossom trees, like ladies with pink parasols, standing all along the road, only one of which remains to remind of that which was. Here in this factory the young people found camaraderie and friendship in the midst of their work, gathering on their break time under the shadow of the leafy cherry trees in the heat of the summer sun as they talked on the dances that were to be in the Palais Ballroom and the big bands that were to play there in the weeks that were to come. For them it was an idyllic time when youth was theirs and their colour was as bright as the petals of the cherry blossom in the early summer of their lives.

But alas the beauty of the cherry trees remained but for a while and each year local people joyously welcomed the short lived profusion of colour that came in the late spring, as did the young factory workers who knew that with them came the balmy days of summer; light frocks and summer dresses, carnivals in every village and parish around.

Many summers came and went and the branches of the cherry trees grew until they near touched the ground as the young people married, sometimes to each other from the various departments therein and so it was that a plastic and wedge heel walked side by side down the same aisle as man and wife. As the years passed by their children too welcomed the blossoms along the Erne Hill as they knew their arrival heralded the imminent freedom of the school holidays. These trees were a feature of all our lives, a touchstone in the year, days when extraordinary beauty burst forth but for a while before our very eyes. Nevertheless the years passed quickly by and with their passing the trees grew old and their blossoms became fewer and fewer and one by one the cherry trees died until only one remained when the Irish Shoes Supplies factory was no longer and those who once gathered beneath their shadow to the sound of the factory horn handed on the baton of youth to another generation and now as grandparents they recalled to those much younger the halcyon days that were spent there.

Now a supermarket, a café, a hairdressing salon and a funeral home occupy the space where once shoes were made and where more importantly fun and laughter was once had. Those who worked there now walk a little slower as they pick up a loaf of bread or a pint of milk under the same roof where once young voices echoed twixt the noise of machines.

For all time, people have grappled with the swift passing of the years; ‘Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow’. (Ps 144:4) and try to grasp the meaning that flows within its rapid current. Perhaps it is the cherry blossom in its fleeting beauty that teaches the lesson that it is ours to bring joy to the lives of those who sit beneath our shadow, where ever it is we are planted, be it for but a short while as with the blossom or as for the old woman Gretta Brady, the whole of ninety years.


Once upon a time there was a lasting friendship