“Those who go feel not the pain of parting,
it’s those who stay behind that suffer.”
When I heard this Longfellow quotation on a recent episode of “Inspector Lewis” and not from Sergeant Hathaway, either, I sat up and took notice as something stirred.
I had lived and worked in London in the sixties, although I’m nearly over it now. America beckoned and I transferred happily. Notice I said transferred.
I never actually emigrated and had it in the back of my mind that someday……. more than 40 years later, I’m still here, temporarily. Everyone else emigrated, but not me. As I said, I transferred.
Recently, I went to Lincoln Center to see two plays under the aegis of “DruidMurphy”. Much to my chagrin, I was singularly unprepared. These plays were about emigration, about leaving and staying behind. Imagine a knife being plunged repeatedly into tender flesh and then being twisted slowly. I know! Not nice. Imagine a theatre full of people squirming on the edges of their seats. And I’ve often wondered about this thing referred to as bated breath. Now I know.
The Druid Theatre Company from Galway, in the West of Ireland, is world famous in the theatre world for their interpretations of Irish playwrights. It is led by Garry Hynes, the only woman to win a Tony for Best Director. (The Beauty Queen of Leenane). Now they have taken the plays of the often overlooked Irishman, Tom Murphy and beaten me over the head with them.
Years ago, the unoccupied office next door to me had it’s door closed for a few days and while we knew there was someone in there, we never saw or heard the person. A mystery man? Maybe. Eventually, we were told it had been Mr. Murphy, working on changes to a play being produced in NYC. He needed peace and quiet. (Don’t we all?)
Mind you, I don’t think there will be much peace and quiet for me having seen these two plays, especially “Conversations.” I’m in turmoil ever since. I thought emigration was about those who left. According to Longfellow and now Mr. Murphy, it seems it’s more about those who stayed behind. They’re the heroes as they didn’t leave. Where does that leave the rest of us?
A couple of years ago I brought my two oldest grandchildren back to my hometown in Ireland. We walked up one side of the Main Street and down the other, stopping only for ice-cream. Much to my surprise and disappointment I knew no one and worse still, no one knew me. Colin, then 5, asked me if I was from here. The only answer I could think of was “I used to be.”
Both plays were greeted with rousing ovations but after the curtain calls the audiences sat unwilling or unable to get out of their seats. One night I turned to the stranger on my left who was dabbing her eyes. She looked Irish, shrugged her shoulders and tried to smile. She even offered me a tissue.
Another night I spoke to a couple on the train heading downtown, one Irish and the other Asian. We had the Playbill in common and we yakked all the way to Penn Station. I don’t recall what we said, we just needed to talk to someone. Anyone.
So, maybe I am an emigrant, after all. I must tell my family, but they probably suspected that all along.
**”Conversations on a Homecoming” is a play by Tom Murphy.