“Resuscitating the heart of compassion that society has lost” is something the Buddhist philosopher and writer Daisaku Ikeda writes a lot about. The paradox for me is that though in many ways I was very lost myself when I lived in Kings Cross, it was then a famous London red light area and epicenter of drug crime, it was where I found that spirit of compassion, in lots of ways, in others and also in myself. It was when my viewpoint on life, on people, all my preconceptions, changed.
I was living in cheap housing association flat in the goth like red brick buildings in the back streets of Kings Cross which had once been Victorian slums. A struggling artist in my mid twenties, the post-Cambridge theatre company that I had co founded had split up, everyone had gone their separate ways and my closest friend from it had left the country to live in New York. I was refusing all parental pressure to “come home” as I knew that would be followed with “get a proper job.” I was very isolated in my stubbornness and also very frightened of where I was living. There were no security doors or gates on the stairwells, so anyone and everyone could walk in. And did. I had also been very ill. The drug addict who lived close by and the young woman neighbor next door who had just come out of a battered wives refuge, frightened me also. They were in the slip stream, outside of society. Awful though it may sound, I didn’t want to get too close. I do also remember starting to practice Buddhism at that time, well chanting anyway. Compassion (along with wisdom, courage and life force) is one of the aspects of dharma nature or Buddha nature in all things and people. And gradually the them and me, melted away and I felt compassion for us all, the drug addict downstairs, crying on the phone to his dad in Dublin telling him again and again he loved him was heart breaking to hear. When I did open the door to an incessant and insisting pounding from my new neighbor next door, she had such energy and verve and warmth and consideration, she resuscitated my spirits and literally dragged me out the flat and to go swimming every day. There was such a sense of community, a sense of looking out for each other, a sense of kindness that I will never forget. That’s not how it was supposed to be, these were supposed to be the bad people, and in my ever quick to be triggered Irish Catholicness, I thought I must be bad too. We were all damned together! But actually what I was discerning was that it wasn’t true. And really the only difference between people was their predominant life state, not their status, or their position in respectable society, i.e. what was motivating them, under the surface.
And there was a mixture, there were immigrants and young graduates and a lot of musicians also. And there was very bad stuff happening, but a unique spirit also.
I knew I was going to write a book about it, but then never did. I wrote as much as the first few pages in what is now the first part of Christmas at the Cross. So I knew the voice of the character and I knew it was driven by that character, but it felt a bit weird, normally it is guys who have “roughed it.” And I felt a bit embarrassed. Then I got caught up in film making.
Then as I had met the publisher from Bridge House and she told me about their Christmas anthology. I wrote the first part and it was selected by The Irish Times and Bridge House anthology and that was very encouraging. My little experiment had gone well. Then within a couple of months, we were all in lock down. And I decided as part one of Christmas at the Cross had gone well, maybe I could write part 2 and then maybe part 3. But I also feel the sense of crisis of that first lock down, unlocked it also. I couldn’t stop thinking about how great these people had been to me, how judged they were by society and how I wanted to pay tribute to that unthinking, spirit of compassion. The drug addict is now dead and the female neighbor spiraled down and fell apart from some choices which didn’t help her. It was heart breaking for me, as she had been such a true friend, when I was a bit all over the place. But there was nothing I could do to help her. She disappeared. That really got to me. So I thought I can do this. I can generate this, into a book, create a story in gratitude and report it, give that under the radar voice to the world. As a Christmas tale, it also is about redemption not from sin but from an awful situation.
Out of the muddy swamp the lotus flower blooms.
Some of us did. Some of us didn’t.
(c) Maeve Murphy
About Christmas at the Cross:
Christmas is not a joyous occasion for everyone. Not at the Cross. Yet hope and humour remain.
Blaithnaid’s relationship with Kieran is not good. She has allies in Nadina the prostitute who soothes her with potatoes and Yoichi a Japanese neighbour who offers tea but only a little sympathy. David a neighbour supplies something approaching a festive Christmas with plum pudding and White Christmas. There is snow, there are Christmas lights and there are friends meeting for drinks. There is violence, there are threats and there is heartache. How will Blaithnaid find her way through all of this?
Christmas at the Cross – a Kings Cross story – is a novella in five parts from Bridge House Publishing. Maeve Murphy creates a compelling text, an authentic voice and a real sense of place.
“This is a story about women who have had enough. If you have had enough too, this is for you. But regardless, you will be astonished by Maeve’s riveting tale.”
Jim Sheridan, screenwriter and director of My Left Foot
Order your copy online here.