TREASURING LIFE

Sean Coghlan S.J.

I was born in a homely, friendly community. When I was young, I lived in a small city, so it was safe to explore the city and the surrounding countryside on my bicycle. At home, in school and on holidays I developed interests and hobbies which now, nearly fifty years later, I still enjoy.

Although my father left school when he was fourteen, he was very keen on reading. One of his favourite books was "Tom Brown's Schooldays". He made it seem so attractive that I longed to read it. One of my teachers advised us to get a taste for reading. He warned us that we might end up in a village with nothing to do after work. If we didn't like books, we might turn to alcohol! In particular, I remember the principal of my primary school, Mother Breeda, she bribed us to take some extra classes on a Saturday morning. What bribes did she use? Sweets and books. She had a locked cupboard full of story books. If we worked hard, she would open the cupboard for us. For me the doors of the cupboard were magic doors, opening on a world of delight. The delight persists.

At the beginning of secondary school I was lucky enough to have had three very good Geography teachers in a row. From them I picked up a love of maps, of travel books and of "foreign" peoples. I used to go down to the harbour every day and go on to the ships. I'd talk to the dockers and to sailors from many different countries. They would show me the bridge, the chart room, the radio room and the hot, noisy, frightening engine room.

I have a small collection of maps from all over the world, and of course, from Hong Kong. I study them regularly. I have walked over most of Hong Kong. For many years I have been interested in safety at sea. I have kept files on shipping accidents and have written many letters to the papers about safety at sea. I believe they did some good. Hong Kong is a paradise for ship lovers.

As a foreigner in Hong Kong I feel happy and privileged to be able to get to know something of the Chinese people and their culture. All these blessings go back to my early luck in having such good Geography teachers.

Another blessing in my life is a love of Nature acquired in school, from my father and on holidays in the country or by the sea.

Our school had a natural history museum. I spent many hours gazing at the exhibits. I remember sitting with my father on the banks of the Mulcair watching the salmon leaping a small fall or on a cliff in Co. Clare, watching the seals scrambling out of the sea to flop onto a shelf of rock. Still vivid in my mind is a long, sloping field, slowly coming into view as the summer morning haze rolled away. Dotted all over the field were mares and foals cropping the lush grass. It was a sight of rare beauty.

Such beauties arc to be found in Hong Kong too. Hong Kong is a very busy city but it is an excellent place for bird watching. Only fifteen minutes from the terminus of an urban bus service one can, with a little luck, see a White Bellied Sea Eagle soaring and circling over hills and sea against a blue, cloudless sky. One day in King's Park, just a few minutes from Nathan Road, one of the busiest streets in the world, I watched in delight as a Long Tailed Tailor Bird fed her four young ones, perched in a row on a delicate bamboo, framed against the same blue cloudless sky.

When I was in school I collected match boxes. Some years ago I took up the hobby again. Hong Kong is an excellent place for collecting match boxes. Nearly every restaurant has its own box. Friends who travel abroad are happy to bring boxes back. There is much coming and going between Hong Kong and China. China produces some lovely sets. Collecting match boxes is a fascinating hobby and it costs very little!

Of course, I do not rely on hobbies and interests alone to make life a treasure to be cherished. My strongest reason for treasuring life is that it is a gift from God. Thanks to my parents, I came to know God as powerful and majestic, but also a one who is loving, trustworthy and the source of all that is good. I will always remember my parents kneeling together by their bed, praying. Then and now, I believe God will never let us down.

However, it is good to have some very tangible evidence that life is worthwhile. Hobbies and interests can support us in our dark moments. Of course, we all have to work. We all have obligations to others. We can and should, though, enjoy life. For that reason I believe it is important to build up a stock of hobbies and enthusiasms early in life. Some of them will fade; some will last. At all stages of our lives they will help us to conclude that life is worth living despite difficulties, failure and disappointments.