What I learned about life from Dennis Lehane and a long day’s walking in West Cork

Everyone’s got their thing.

You do, and I do.

Your thing will be different to mine, and both will be completely different to someone else’s.

So many of us don’t know what our thing is. We conform to group identity because we need community and because there’s safety in numbers.

But the big downside of group identity is that it makes it a little harder for us to express our individuality, because to express our individuality risks announcing our separateness, and to be separate is the be apart from the group.

And to be apart from the group is a risky thing. We know this without consciously knowing it. We know it deep within the cells of our million-year-old brains, which has evolved to need some tribal safety.

We are also unique individuals and to experience joy, we need to express that individuality. We need to live in a way in which our thoughts, our words and our actions are in alignment.

And we need to be doing our thing. Whatever that is.

There’s a line in Dennis Lehane’s historical crime novel A Given Day:

Craftsmanship is just a fancy word for what happens when labour meets love.

That place where labour meets love. That place where craftsmanship happens. That’s your thing. (Note that “labour” is not just the work you get paid for. It’s everything you get up and do.)

So, how might we get to our thing?

We get there, I think, through curiosity for something new, through trying that thing that we’re curious about, and seeing if it’s something we might like.

And when we find that we like something, we’re more likely over time to find ourselves developing some skills in it, and when we develop some skills at something, we like it more and develop even more skills in what might become an infinite virtuous circle.

After that, it’s about acceptance.

Accepting fully our own individual gifts, and accepting fully the individual gifts of others.

A final word on “doing your thing” from the beautiful Toni McDermott from County Cork. (I’ve lost myself, repeatedly, in the beauty and energy and light of those eyes…)

A few summers ago on a summer trip to County Cork in Ireland’s south-west, I went for a long walk that took me from Skibbereen to Union Hall and across the Poulgorm Bridge past Glandore, and through the little village of Leap (pronounced “Lep”).

In Leap there is, or was, a series of portrait pictures of local personalities from Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, a tourist trail of boundless beauty that runs from Cork in the south to the tip of Donegal in the north.

One of those portraits is of Toni McDermott. On the day I walked past, something in Toni’s face told me to stop, and listen to the silence.

Toni’s photo was adorned with a small black ribbon and a note to say she had passed away three weeks previously.

Her favourite quote, in tiny lettering? Get up and do your thing.