Death in the desert…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASimpson desert, W. Australia 

In Jan. 2000, I travelled to Mt. Isa in central Australia to visit my brother’s grave. I took an overnight bus from Alice Springs to journey through a dramatic landscape of distant bush fires and mesmerized kangaroo’s that every now and then appeared as ghost-like wraiths in the lights of the bus. I thought of Seanie (pronounced Shawnie) and his affinity for this odd desert world where beauty and death are lovers and I realized that the reason why flowers in bloom have no future is because their completeness is not limited by reflection. My brother was not a reflection either and just as a flower his early death contained a message. The night passed into a beautiful sunrise that incongruously silhouetted the distant billowing smokestacks of Mt. Isa.

Mt. Isa is a small town set adjacent to a silver mining facility. It is located in the middle of a most forbidding and unforgiving desert that quickly allowed me to understand how it claimed my brother’s life back in 1978. Seanie was twenty eight years of age at the time of death. He worked the various mines as a heavy equipment mechanic and it was not unusual for him to travel large distances between jobs. He was travelling in the Simpson Desert between the towns of Birdsville and Bedouri when he lost his way by going off the already barely distinguishable track that only an experienced traveller in the area could decipher. His jeep ran out of petrol and he became stranded. He tried various techniques to survive but his desperate attempts came to naught. Two years later his skeletal remains were discovered under the jeep which had finally been spotted by a light aircraft flying over the area. No family member attended the funeral. Perhaps, we were all in shock and did not want to allow in the information that Seanie was actually dead. Mt. Isa seemed like another planet to us and no one wanted the responsibility of saying goodbye. There was a service at the local church in our hometown in Ireland which was attended by family and his many friends, all in various shades of disbelief. I remembered when my mother turned to me before the service for assurance that Seanie was actually dead so that she could finally accept and instruct the priest to announce it from the altar. The death was verified through the dental records so I nodded to her and put the final clasp on the fact that Seanie was gone. I still wonder. I’m sure we all do and every time I see a hitch-hiker or someone out of place I always look very closely. Seanie left Ireland in 1972 to travel the world. He was curious about truth and felt that what he had experienced so far in his life did not measure to it. He based himself in Australia from where he worked to make the money he used for travelling. He had our mother mail funds to his various ports of call. She was his bank. He always travelled with a back-pack that was usually filled with books. His appetite for information was insatiable and he declared that he would not stop travelling and learning until something made sense. He back-packed through most of South East Asia, India, South America and North America, taking breaks only to return to Australia to replenish his money supply. He had a great affinity for Australia and spoke highly of it. Ireland, on the other hand, seemed to drain him and never became an option for him to return to. He was offended by the patriarchal control the Catholic Church had on the minds of the people and he recoiled against it to the depths of his intuitive soulful knowing. Seanie was pure and his intuition was crystal. I have a large picture of my mother looking at me as I write this, she is smiling. During his travels Seanie became lost in the world for a period of about two years. The family and I became very concerned. We notified the Red Cross to be on the look-out for him. Finally, I received a phone call at my home in New York. It was about Seanie. He had been picked up on the streets of San Francisco by a crisis intervention unit who evaluated him and then urged him to call me. I sent him the money to come to New York and when he finally arrived in Grand Central Station at 2 am I did not recognize him at first. He was skin and bone and it hardly seemed possible that he could walk at all. I cried but did not let him see - he knew anyway. I bought him boots and clothes and he spent the next two months with me and my wife. Finally, at the urging of the family and myself he decided to return to Ireland. He arrived looking fit and healthy and was received with great love. But, of course, no one could understand him. His awareness had made him an outsider and as much as he tried he just couldn’t fit in. He agreed to undergo psychiatric counselling at an out-patient clinic where they promptly labelled him ‘borderline schizophrenic’. The Psychiatrist asked me why I thought Seanie had lost his way. I told him that perhaps Seanie was closer to the way than we were. In later years I found this to be true. He accepted a position as a mechanic in a local garage and I remember my joy when the first engine he put together worked perfectly. I was relieved to hear this news because I felt it might entice him to stay in Ireland where I felt he would at least be safe. But Ireland was not for Seanie and again, my father and mother and the rest of us had to reluctantly say goodbye to him. This time not knowing that it would be our last farewell. He returned to Australia and after a few months my mother and I received checks with a thank you note. Shortly afterwards he went missing again until finally his body was found under his jeep in the desert. Back in Mt. Isa I booked into a motel in full view of the smoke-stacks. I was depressed. I prepared myself to visit the grave and next morning as I was about to leave, I turned on the TV to find it playing the life story of John Lennon. Seanie, in my mind was much like Lennon and as I watched I felt him deeply through Lennon’s  life. I proceeded to the grave with my niece Ciara’s borrowed Walkman playing songs from the Beatles and Stones. I spent about an hour at the grave. It was quiet and I was alone. I buried my necklace under the grave-marker and did various rituals to honour him. I remembered my mother whom in her dying years came to visit the grave. I remembered John Lennon and his gift to the world and I remembered Seanie for the beauty of his purpose and the incredible loneliness by which he had to achieve it. As I was leaving the graveyard there were two young men trying to fix a motorbike. They asked if I could help them. It was three miles to Mt. Isa and they had been stranded for hours. I should add that I am very far from being a mechanic, nonetheless, I decided to take a look. It took no more than a couple of seconds for me to see and fix the problem. I told the young fellow to try it out. He started the bike and took it for a test run. When he got back he looked at me astonished as if I had just performed a miracle. I had, or should I say, Seanie had. I simply reversed the sparkplug’s cap to secure a connection. I realised immediately that this was a setup by my brother or, the higher love that guides us all. In any case it was a nice pat on the back and a sweet communication to honour my visit. I thought about bringing his remains to Ireland to be interred in the local cemetery in our hometown but thought better of it because Seanie was in Australia, the country he loved. Furthermore he was part of the history of the local Irish Club whose members so honoured him at his funeral and make regular visits to the grave. I visited the club and was received most graciously by the two noble souls most responsible for it providing a home away from home for the many Irish working in the mine. Ben and Chris informed me that the mine has very strict standards for pollution control and that what I viewed coming out of the stacks was not a threat to health. Chris took me around in her 4-wheel drive and introduced me to the beauty of Mt. Isa. I began to see it as a moment between worlds - Seanie’s place. I knew he was at home here in the bosom of these good folks and when I finally said goodbye I felt at peace. NOTE During his stay with me in New York Seanie talked of many things that I felt intuitively to be true but lacked the background to comprehend. Years later after I began to write I realised that our information had become the same and that he had passed it on to me somehow. I sometimes feel that it was me who died in the desert that day and that Seanie is continuing his work through me. If we are indeed what we ‘think’ then I know Seanie to be very much alive in me now. The result of Seanie’s sacrifice and the process of my subsequent education has distilled into the awareness I am attempting to share with you now. The following poem is from a newspaper clipping dated June 29th 1978. It was found in the pocket of Seanie’s jeans when the body was found.



He is an Outsider because he stands for truth The Outsider is a man who cannot live in the comfortable Insulated world of the bourgeois Accepting what he sees and touches as reality.

The Outsider is not sure who he is. The Outsider is not a freak, But is only more sensitive than the ‘sanguine and healthy-minded’ type of man.

The visionary is inevitably an outsider. The Outsider’s problem is the problem of freedom The Outsider is primarily a critic,

And if a critic feels Deeply enough about what he is criticizing, He becomes a prophet.                                                                               

                                                                     - Colin Wilson . . Nature teaches us that death is not the end. Many have received the message but without the knowledge of eternal recurrence there is no practical way to assimilate the information. We have lost the spontaneous cooperation that comes with purity and must now use thinking to learn our way back; we must convert thinking to knowing and live accordingly. In the meantime the pure ones by their internal knowing maintain the balance of life so that it will continue as a means for thinking to flower. We meet them in our daily lives but they do not reveal. Most are not aware of the alchemy of love yet without them the candle of life has a short wick.

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