A Reflection by Fr Hugh O’Donnell – ‘Words in their Jackets’

Fr Hugh O’Donnell is a poet and ministers with the Salesian community in the parish of Sean McDermott Street in Dublin. He shares the following reflection with us, entitled ‘Words in their Jackets’:

How amazing is that; our ability to take experience, find its register then see it metamorphose as language squirming across the page? How is it done? Today there is neuroscience to lend a hand but it doesn’t seem to capture the magic of that seamless flow from outside to in and from inside to out again dawning as insight, wonder, pain or loss.

Perhaps you remember the shock of hearing the first words your child uttered, linking the word ‘apple’ with the shiny green sphere on the table or the word ‘sweet’ with that tasty delight hiding in a wrapper. Or how she responded to ‘here take my hand’ as two hands fell in together.

Later we learn what can’t be said, only pointed at – over there, beyond, further. Words going all shy, doubling back on themselves into a whisper before all that can’t find expression – geese flying, the perfection of a spider’s web, love light, the sound of a horse drawn hearse… Or when you emerge some morning to discover that the sky has peeled off to reveal an exquisite blue and the world looks lit up from within; early blossom a reason to cheer and children running ahead of their buggies. At such moments the tired words all fall down. They’re not up to it. Just let it be, you find yourself saying, let it speak for itself as you drop your guard and hand yourself over to whatever it is that makes it so.