Week 3: Prey

March 19, 2017 in Lent 2017: Week 3

The parables of the hidden treasure and of the pearl of great price in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew were chosen as the evangelical texts of proclamation by the priest who presided at my nuptial Mass in a temporary chapel (it is still there forty years later) beside the exposed playing fields of my alma mater in Belfield, Dublin; and, as he brandished the bejeweled book at beginning and end, they were topped and tailed with elegant Irish glissandi on a girlfriend’s concert harp. The celebrant, a Jesuit, had intended to preach quite informally, sitting down, in fact, on the sanctuary step, close to the bridal prie-dieu, like Jesus in the Galilean rowboat, but his nerve failed him when he saw that one half of the wedding party was solemnly carapaced in patriarchal coat-tails and designer chiffon, while their plebeian doubles across the aisle clustered in self-conscious cheerfulness and took Polaroid pictures.

I had just flown in from the States, and was jet-lagged. Indeed, a canon lawyer has told me in the meantime that the sacramental contract was probably invalid on grounds of stress, separation, and fatigue. But he was scheming in litigious terms of signatures and stamps, of before and after, of ink drying to dust and dust to soot on the notarized vellum, whereas our marriage had begun some six years earlier when I walked into a city-centre pub out of the rain and spotted, through the lovely veils of cigarette smoke and the humane inebriation of those present, a Titian princess with blonde highlights, her bottom on a bar-stool at the counter, a pint-glass in her hand, all muslin and cheesecloth and pink pastel espadrilles and the gorgeous boleros that were de rigueur in the glam-rock era.

Now, as the homilist glossed the secrets of the hidden treasure in a field, I thought of the word thesaurus which is the ancient Greek term for treasure. Actually, the first huge, hard-bound book I was ever given in my life was a junior dictionary, called A Children’s Thesaurus, one Christmas morning by my good godfather, and at the time I set myself the task of learning ten new terms in alphabetical order each day for the rest of my life (a seven year-old has a poor sense of the prolongations of time), starting with the aardvark and the abacus and the abattoir.

This project had nothing to do with the desire for wisdom per se, or with any scruple of scientific curiosity. Instead, it had to do with the psychosexual pleasures of power; and, when I walked Dun Laoghaire pier with my father and described the colourful dinghies in the coal harbor as an armada (I was still on the A’s, I suppose), he repeated the Spanish noun, without ascribing its source in his own seventh child, to a surgical colleague who was walking in the opposite direction. Now I was free of my forebear. I could open my mouth and proclaim my own praises.

Yet I stammered my way through the groom’s speech at the wedding breakfast, and spoke so poorly that no-one joked about it. There is a snapshot of me somewhere: hirsute, open-mouthed, orotund, with the pre-modern dentition I had learned to mask with the back of my wrist-watch hand when I smiled broadly in the student housing of my Californian campus; and, a whole millennium later, in the sedative space before sleep or in the drowsy Sabbath lie-on of a wasted weekend, I still fashion my failed address, and deliver it freshly, tweaking, it, trimming, it, touting it, although four-fifths of the persons who expected it on that summer afternoon are dead and gone, are buried treasure; which is to say, they are wherever my great grandchildren are in hiding in the glistening hic, haec, hoc of God’s cosmic clock-time.

What should I have said to my real mother, a forgotten family housekeeper, who sat among friends of friends far from the top table? To my father, who had wrestled me to the ground in the drawing-room four years before, and who would tell me on his eiderdown deathbed that he wished he had invited me to his wedding? To the gentle homosexual celibate with the Tourette’s twitch in his left eyelid? To the clever, campaigning agnostic, my genius, my groom’s man, who would make his way, some thirty years later, on two titanium kneecaps across eight hundred miles of trail and trial from the foothills of the Pyrenees to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela, and beyond the scheduled Camino altogether to the outer limits of Finisterre itself, the end of the salt of the earthly and the start of the salt of the saline? To the clapping advocate who would dress in his three-piece pin-stripe suit, slot his house-keys into the tight-lipped letter-box, and walk into the sea to the sound of a cormorant diving and the xylophone notes of an ice-cream van?

And what would I say to you, a dear companion, the cherished one, my most complete of all strangers? You, the cryptic centerpiece of all my revelations.

I would say that the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man finds it, the very first thing that he does is to hide it all over again, only this time better.