We’re on the sea, somewhere between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island, when the weather changes. I can’t describe a definite point when this happens, it just slips smoothly over us. At one point the waters are calm and we’re congratulating ourselves on the wise decision to wear shorts and T-shirts, but soon it’s windy and cold and we’re pulling on jumpers and fleeing from the exposed upper deck of the little ferry.
It’s Sunday on Rathlin, Northern Ireland’s only inhabited island, and we head straight for the play park. My wife and I take turns pushing our son high on the swings. Then I rock the seesaw fast so that he’s half-delighted, half-terrified. While he’s moving up and down haphazardly he yelps ‘Daddy, stop! I’m scared’, but as soon as the movement ceases he pleads for me to do it again.
It reminds me how fine the line is between being afraid and something else and I think briefly about the anxiety I’ve been suffering this week. I wrote about it in a previous blog (https://whatsadaddyfor.blog/2018/08/02/falling-to-pieces-again/). Since I published the post I’ve been comforted and astonished by the outpouring of goodwill and empathy which has flowed in my direction. Some from family, some from friends, most from people whom I’ve never met. Don’t believe those who try and insist that human nature is instinctively cruel and unsympathetic, that’s not my experience.
I’m a lot better today, otherwise I wouldn’t even be able to countenance a family outing. There is still anxiety, nesting in my chest and refusing to go away, but I’ve got it under some sort of control.
I never pretend to have all, or even any, of the answers but a day out in a place I love with the people I love seems to give me as good a chance of some peace as anything.
So here we are on Rathlin, just for a few hours, so we try to do lots of things for a short time. A spell in the park, a walk on the rocky beach with the grey sand and the rusty anchor, a dander along the narrow road which winds up the hill away from the bay.
Rathlin is a curious mix of old and new, the charm of a community cut off from society combined with the recent realisation of the tourism potential of the site. Now you see rotting wooden fishing boats alongside brightly coloured jet-skis. There is much new development on the island but also many ancient cars and tractors covered with a layer of light dust which have not been disturbed in years. It’s the only place where I’ve a car with a floral window box growing happily attached to the door.
There are fat, lazy seals lying stretched out near the port. A pleasing cafe sells very bad coffee balanced out by very good cake. There’s an abundance of sea and land birds. The rare, nostalgic call of the corncrake has been heard on the island recently, although the shy bird is hardly likely to put in an appearance while my son is noisily snapping around my heels complaining that his legs are tired and begging to be lifted.
Like I said, we squeeze a lot into a short period of time and there’s a pleasing weariness in our limbs as we sit on a large rock and wait for the ferry to slide into the harbour to bring us back to the mainland. When you watch it at sea from afar it seems barely to be moving at all. I’m in no rush.
As I sit here on the dark rock I realise that my anxiety has gone. For the first time in six days I become aware the spasms of tension coursing from my stomach to my chest have stopped. I’m completely relaxed and content. For now anyway.
I try to think about it, to recollect the exact moment when the fear left me and the world seemed to become benign once more. But I can’t do it. It’s so gradual and intuitive that the change slips over me without being noticed. Just like the weather on the stretch of water between Ballycastle and Rathlin.