Patrick begins in gloom, rejected by his girlfriend and unsure of his occupation. When a Chinese man gives him a message from the I Ching, he finds the courage to leave teaching and take a job working with unemployed youth. His search for sustenance leads into vexing terrain, learning how to deal with the sexuality of a co-worker, the sadness, anger and disillusionment of the young people, and the foibles of the management committee – the self-serving, the brutal, the scheming and the inept. He strives to find peace and purpose in his work, and a woman who will love him.
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Our lives are a search for sustenance. What work will we do in order to feed ourselves? And who will love us? We wade, sometimes, through a thick mire of gloom and despair. This is where Patrick begins, rejected by his girlfriend and unsure of his occupation. But an encounter with an old Chinese man gives him a message of hope – his fate is his to create if he is willing to break things up.
So Patrick embarks on his journey, first leaving, then coming back to teaching, and for a while that sustains him. Then he listens to the voice that says he must start again elsewhere, and he finds a place where he can do work that he finds worthwhile. The rough environment of a support service for unemployed youth thrusts multiple challenges upon him – how to relate to the young people in their struggle to find a place in the community, how to respond to the sexuality of Reena, his female co-worker, and how to deal with the dangerous foibles of people on the management committee – the publican, the mechanic, the solicitor.
Patrick finds that the simple search for sustenance can lead into vexing terrain. He experiences being sacked as the president seeks to demonstrate his power, but he is reinstated and gains a new co-worker, Julie, who brings new zest and direction to the project. They engage with the explosive anger of Marcus, and the apathy and disillusionment of other youths. One youth is killed, and Patrick and Julie strive to show the community how they are each other’s hope.
And Patrick needs to find a woman who will love him. Two women appear in his life, but is his bond with the mother or the daughter? It all leads to the bachelors and spinsters ball. One way or another, everyone turns up, some to play out ugly old myths, and some to create new myths, even if by accident. Patrick looks to the wisdom of the ancients to find the true source that sustains him, notwithstanding the dark underside of the community that is exposed at the ball.
Chapter 1: The great sadness
When Janice told me she didn’t want to see me anymore, I left her apartment and started walking down the stairs. Then there didn’t seem to be any reason to keep walking, so I sat down, there on the stairs. The wall in front of me was glass, facing west, and it was afternoon. The sun streamed through and bathed me.
This wasn’t the beginning of the great sadness. It happened because I was in the midst of the great sadness, a little boat bobbing in the ocean, and no land in sight.
The Tao says “what you gain is more trouble than what you lose; sustain your connection to the source” . What I had to lose was the sadness, and that went way back. Of course, it seemed to be necessary to bang my head against a brick wall for a while. I loved Janice in that desperate way that completely disregards reality, like the fact that should have been obvious to me, that she was largely indifferent to me. She kind of just wanted a boyfriend, just to see what it was like to have a boyfriend for a while.
My desperate love spawned poems and private heart-rending. It was love like throwing yourself off a cliff, expecting gravity to suspend its implacability and transform the moment into bliss. In the end, there was nothing there but falling. In retrospect I could be grateful that she said it: “I don’t want to see you anymore”. If she’d thought differently, I could have been hanging at the end of her string forever in the hope of an impossibility.
Better to sit so empty on her stair that afternoon. And in any case, Janice wasn’t the source of the sadness. The sadness in which I was immersed was greater, deeper. The futile love was just a skirmish in its greater war, a playground where it could exercise its belligerent qualities. I knew it but I still ached for the dream of that love for Janice. I had thought that it would complete me, that there was an “us” that would make life wonderful.
These things were entangled with each other. I would have liked to have sorted it out before I had to go, but I figured I had to move off the stairs soon, and I was good at doing what I figured I had to do, so I got up and walked down the stairs. I got on my motorbike and rode away, wanting to shake off the weight by going somewhere.