It’s 2:15am and it’s time to get up and get on my bicycle and cycle into Naas from Prosperous for the Darkness into Light walk at 4am, and I’m thinking, am I mad? Could I not just roll over in bed and say I forgot?
But I haven’t forgotten, and now I’m dressed and on my bicycle, following the route into Naas along the canal. To my relief, the faint moonlight illuminates the rain-filled potholes, for I don’t have a light on my bicycle. Besides, I’m also on red alert for ghosts, though there’s no sign of anything, just the sound of water and the wind in my ear - eerie enough.
But I talk to the dead, anyhow: Frédérique in France, Tokunaga in Japan, Emile in Belgium, Kelley in the USA, and a few friends from Clane and Prosperous, all of whom have lost their lives through suicide. ‘I’m doing this for you,’ I tell them, but there is no answer, thankfully.
A woodpigeon takes flight from among the bushes, frightening the life out of me nonetheless.
Soon, however, I am leaving the darkness of the countryside behind me and entering Sallins. I sigh with relief and cycle like the clappers up Monread Road. I’m late. I reach the gates of Naas Racecourse. I spot a few cars. At least, I’m not the only fool up at 4am, I realise. And then I see them: dozens of cars, and then hundreds. I’m amazed.
I park my bicycle and fall in behind the tail-end of a small group of walkers - a few women, with dogs dressed up in the yellow Darkness into Light T-shirts. “Which way has everyone gone?” I ask them. They direct me towards the Blessington Road.
I pass a few more walkers - mothers with sleepy children dragging their feet.
My heart swells with admiration. A car comes up behind us. The driver winds down the window. “It’s well for some,” one of the walkers shouts out to the driver. “Have you lost the power of your legs?” We chuckle. The driver is one of the organisers of the walk and is protecting walkers from traffic from behind.
I catch up with the tail-end of the walkers. “It was worth getting up at 3am,” I hear a woman say to her husband as I pass them by. “Seeing you at that time was like an apparition.” Their friends burst out laughing. I chuckle to myself.
“It’s incredible how something like this can catch the public imagination,” a man says to his mates. Just then I turn a corner and a sea of yellow comes into view: young people, old people, grannies with toddlers in prams. The whole of the county is here. People with their friends. Couples holding hands. Elderly people with walking-sticks. People walking alone. An early cock crows from a housing-estate. I check my watch. 4:20am and the streets of Naas are thronged as far as the eye can see.
We wind our way past Naas Hospital. The crowd now stretches before me like a festive yellow Chinese dragon winding its way up towards Naas Main Street. An ambulance exits the hospital and puts on its siren. The crowds make way.
“Talk about the parting of the Red Sea!” a man says, and there is more laughter.
We reach the Main Street.
A mother pulls her son towards her and places her arm around him. “You’ll soon be the same size as me,” she says. “Next year you’ll be up to here.” She points at her neck, and I’m warmed by her dream for him.
We pass the Courthouse and make our way up to the town hall. I can see people all the way up to Marks and Spencer and beyond.
“My wedding ring and engagement ring don’t fit me anymore,” I overhear a woman say. “I’m after starting to carry them around in my bag.”
I take note of life’s little intimacies at 4:30am in Naas.
We reach the Blessington Road. A group of young girls cut in through the garage on the corner. “You’ll have to do the whole walk all over again,” the mother of one of them calls out to them, and we all laugh some more.
We reach the end.
“Well done! Well done!” a volunteer calls out to us as we pour into the pavilion. “Be sure to bring along all your friends next year and make it even bigger and better.”
I mill among the hundreds of people queuing up for sandwiches and refreshments, then take my leave.
I cycle home. Hares run at the sight of me. A fox greets me in a nearby field. A fisherman takes his seat along the canal. The rain comes on.
And then it hits me: I’m not doing this for the dead. I’m doing this for the living. I’m doing this for all those who suffer from depression. I’m doing this for all those who have ever felt like ending it all, like I once did 20 years ago when I left the Jesuits and felt that my world was falling apart and I went down to the water’s edge in Dun Laoghaire and thought of ending it all.
And I want them to be here next year. I want them to walk the streets of Naas with me.
We all do.
We want them to laugh.
And they will.