Monday, February 04, 2008

remembering john o'donohue

The following is taken from a short address I gave as part of the memorial service for John O’Donohue, which was held in Galway on Saturday 2nd February 2008. The photo to the right is of two pilgrims with the beautiful John, in September 2007.

The first time I had a proper conversation with John O'Donohue, it ended with him responding to my invitation for him to participate in a peace-building initiative in Belfast by saying,
‘I think I’m beginning to become involved’. At the time he was referring only to a speaking engagement, but little did I know that he was also going to become involved in my life as a beloved friend, one of the most life-enhancing people I’ve ever known, and a man so in touch with his real self that his goodness was always on the surface, no matter what was going on in his life.

The last time I spent a day alone with him was in July last year, in this very city, beginning only a few hundred yards from where I stand right now. We had arranged to meet on a Sunday evening, but by 9 o’clock that morning I was experiencing an attack of anxiety and depression, no rare thing for a writer, but all I wanted to do was to go home and be alone in my own space.

When I rang John to cancel our evening, he happened to be on the outskirts of the city, and he insisted that we at least meet for 15 minutes. We found ourselves at the McDonalds restaurant car park by the Omniplex cinema – a place which ordinarily I would not consider sacred territory, but now I believe proves John’s assertion that everything can be holy. He bought me both an orange juice and a coffee, invoking his notorious over-reliance on quoting advertisements for L’Oreal haircare products, and telling me he’d get me both ‘because you’re worth it’.

He then said words that I will always hold in my heart; ‘If you need to be in your own space to be depressed, I totally understand, but if all you’re going to do is be depressed, then come and spend the day with me, and we can be depressed together. Because I love you today, and I will love you forever.’

I think you’ll agree that it is a far better deal to be depressed with John O’Donohue than to be depressed on your own. and so, even though his day was busy, we spent the next 24 hours together, as I went with him to the anniversary mass he celebrated for an old friend, and onto his home at Gleann Treasna, where we talked about depression and anxiety, and I felt the healing balm of his friendship over cigars and whiskey by the fire.

I cooked him dinner, and we ate as a spectacular burnt orange sun went down. After dinner, we watched the Coen Brothers’ deliriously funny and smart film version of Homer’s Odyssey ‘O Brother Where Art Thou?’, and laughed the kind of deep laughter that comes only when friends have let their guard down. After the movie, he hugged me goodnight, and I went to sleep on his profoundly uncomfortable sofa. In the morning, he made me porridge and coffee, and then I drove back to Belfast, filled with a sense of well-being, and with insights into my own life that still reverberate in me today, but most of all, with the knowledge of the love of my beloved friend.


Several years ago, John O’Donohue said to me, ‘I think I’m beginning to become involved’, and it is one of the richest blessings and deepest privileges of my life to acknowledge here today that, for those of us whom he loved, he is still involved.


melmac said...

Thank you Gareth for sharing your love for John with us.
I have been searching the internet for a place to share the deep sadness I feel that he has died and the joy of what he has left from his all too short life.
I never met him but I had hoped to join him this May on his retreat in Conamara. His writing has meant so much to me and my family over the last decade and I wanted to tell him in person. He helped us through my mother's illness and the aftermath of her dying and it is a strange irony that I am finding his writing helpful now in coming to terms with his death and the fact that I will never meet him in this life. I feel certain that my mother will have sought him out though and will be telling him how much he has enriched our lives.
Your accounts of him as a friend more than live up to the impression I gained of the man through his writing. How well he used his extraordinary intellect, wit and wisdom for the benefit of humanity. I realise that I am blessed in a way to have known him as a friend only through his writing and especially his audiobooks because they still live on with the same vitality as ever. It must be so much harder for those who loved and were loved by the man himself to accept the loss of his vital presence on the earth.
I hope that in time the J O'D website will be able to host a forum for sharing the impact his work has had on people from all over the world and from all walks of life. Meanwhile, thank you again for sharing this space with us.
I hold you and his loved ones in my thoughts and prayers.

Melanie Mackintosh

PS I am glad to have discovered your blogsite - I love the idea of reviewing films from a spiritual perspective and that you shared this love with J O'D.

Lewis Cash said...

Gareth thanks so much for sharing this story. I loved John's writing and he sounds like such an amazing person and friend.

Joey said...

What a beautiful story. Thank you.

Marcia said...

Dear Gareth, I am writing from Brazil because John O´Donohue´s books `Eternal Echoes´and `Anam Cara´ reached me here in my town in 2001 at a crucial moment in my life. Since then, I have no doubt had many other tough times but John´s words have been within me as a living nourishment and encouragement.
Knowing of his passing away was shocking news indeed and that has brought me back to reading `Eternal Echoes´again and now I am waiting for `To Bless the Space between us´ to reach me.
Despite the fact that I am Brazilian I have a deep interest in the Celtic culture (I can even play the tinwhistle quite well) and John´s words have brought to my Christian faith a vitality I had never found anywhere else but was eager to find.
I pray all of John´s friends and family are comforted by the Spirit of the very words he wrote and which have comforted so many people all over the world.
Thank you.
Marcia Contador

Robyn Bridges said...

Gareth- thank you for your heartfelt and candid review of your time with John and his words to you about depression. How helpful to realize that we can be who and how we are and find company without having to isolate just because we're feeling badly. What a full human experience, and a heavenly reminder. Yours in the One Spirit, Robyn Bridges

joyliving said...


Thank you for sharing this story about John O'Donohue.


(Thanks for the reference to L'Oreal for this week I heard that reference by John in a podcast)

And I loved the way he almost shouted at you chasing the goblins of gloom away.

As a survivor of depression myself, I can appreciate the effect of John's generous shelter of belonging as you moved from MacDonald's parking lot to his his couch..and breakfast table.

What a generous heart he had. He wrote and spoke about shelter and belonging and when you needed it he walked the talk. Integrity.

I purchased ANAM CARA in Feb 1999, but only this week on March 23, 2011 did I hear about John's death.

I have spent the past few days glued to my computer reading and listening to interviews by John and looking up images of the hauntingly beautiful Connamara, Burren, and learning about him as a friend and brother from people like yourself, David Whyte - - and him as a brother from Pat O'Donohue.

I have been enriched by this journey. I will see things, touch things, hold myself differently. My cup is filled.

Blessings to you all.
Thank you. Thank you.

Elizabeth Marie said...

Thank you for sharing & reminding us of John's spirit. Through a chain reaction of the lives John touched I encountered his work & readings and although I never had the pleasure of meeting my sweet brother I will one day and recount all the ways he's helped me through every major, wonderfully sweet and heart-achingly difficult transition I've had this past year.
My cup as well, is overflowing.
Many Blessings

Colleen said...

Hi there
I just heard an amazing interview with John on "On Being"- it was my first introduction to him and I fell in love. The story you shared here is so comforting, thank you.

Peter said...

thank you Gareth for sharing your story of the day with John....His love for you shines through as does your love for him...and I am a man blessed with buddies with whom we can share our depressions and our wide embrace of life in all its myriad geographies....If you are ever in Southern California I would be pleased to meet, art,good beer, walks in wild places, centering prayer, time with dear friends are among my joys....warmly, Peter Lautz San Diego (

Unknown said...

I realize this comment will come long after your post. I have loved John O'Donohue since first reading him. I don't even know where or when that was. Years. Benedictus was the first collection I read. His book, Beauty, is on my bedside table and I read it in morsels because each bit is so rich I have to savor it. I had hoped to meet him one day, too, and was so sad to learn of his passing. What an amazing, inspiring, loving and good person he was. Thank you for sharing more of him with us.

Yvonne Aileen, Portland, Ore.