Have you ever heard of hungry grass? In Irish mythology it’s cursed, inflicting insatiable craving upon those who cross it. It’s in Anne Enright’s new novel The Green Road (2015), a family story that closes with Christmas Eve preparations, in the Madigan home, in County Clare Ireland.
Rosaleen, mother of four and a widow at 76, goes missing before the meal. Confused, she wanders alone outside, coming upon a
little house, that was tucked into the side of the mountain. A famine cottage of tumbling-down stone, with one door one window, no roof. She could see it by starlight. She was surprised how much she could see. She could go into the little famine house and look up at the stars, there were so many of them, but first she had to cross the hungry grass in front of the doorway. There wasn’t much, just a few blades of it, and once she was across the hungry grass she would be safe from the weather. Of course, after she crossed the hungry grass then she would be hungry for ever. That was the curse of it.
Sometime the grass was on a grave where no priest came to say prayers, because the priest was too busy, or the priest fled. Sometimes the grass was on the threshold of a house where all the people died, with no one left to bury them, and the house fell into ruin after.
But it did not matter if she crossed the hungry grass, because she, too, was going to die. This she knew because her dead husband Pat Madigan was beside her on the road. He went so quiet when he was alive. He stopped talking. He stopped liking her. But he always loved her. And when he was young he walked that road like it belonged to him. He was king of everything green about him, king of the hedgerows, king of the sky. He picked up a stone and he flung it into the broad heavens. He flung it into the sea, where it grew into an island. Grew and grew (277-76).
Rosaleen’s husband isn’t beside her on the road. She’s addled; he’s long dead. But who he was for her, who he remains within her, is there. He will pull her back from freezing, back into life.
Her husband Pat Madigan was a little bit cross with Rosaleen now because Pat Madigan was a saint but he could be cranky enough, betimes. He wanted Rosaleen to crawl over the hungry grass and get in out of the cold.
“Would you stop your romancing,” he said. “Go on!” he said “Hup!”
And Rosaleen swung her arm up and put her hand down, and then the other, and she dragged her old legs through the ruined doorway of the little house. No roof, but a gable wall to protect her against the slice of the cold.
There was no sign of Pat Madigan. He was gone now. After a while, she felt very good. Her brain cleared in a way that was marvelous. There were pains in her wet knees, but they did not matter. The cold was hard in her left hip and she was shaking in a way that was new to her. But the stars were lovely, she could see a piece of the heavens out of the corner of her eyes, framed by the stone of the cottage wall.
Rosaleen was shivering. Her body was shaking her loose, she was just holding on. She had to remember as much as possible, now, she had to be sensible. There was no such thing as hungry grass. And Pat Madigan was long dead. She had to remember everything. The names of the tablets and the names of the diseases, the names of the parts of the body that was trying to leave her now. She had no intention of going, or of letting go. She had no intention (280).
When we truly love others, they enter into us. We begin to see the world through their eyes; we look to the future with them in mind. They become a part of us because we were created incomplete, made to long for, and to live in, love. Those whom we love make us who we are, which is why, when we reach into the deepest part of ourselves, we touch them, as Rosaleen touches her dead husband Pat.
Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life. If you give yourself over to him, live your life for him, orienting it around him and his Gospel, there is no hungry grass that can claim your soul.
The challenge is rooting your life in this relationship before you give it over to others. We all walk between hungry grass and the Bread of Life. We chose our loves between the two, though we don’t always know this. Some relationships drain us of life. They more we hunger for them, the deeper the pain. The soul is never satiated. Life-giving love demands much of us, at times it even wound us, but in the end it feeds us. It is bread for life. It is of the Christ.
Rosaleen saw a satellite moving through a delicacy of stars above her, and it was as though she could sense the earth’s turning. She felt fine. She was out of the worst of the cold. She would have a small sleep and make her way home before morning.
She was woken by a wrenching and a ripping sound, the end of the world. The thump of something. A huge noise like a plane taking off in her ear. The plane reversed, and then it went forward again. Reversed. There was a cow on the other side of the wall, breathing, tearing a few mouthfuls of midnight grass. The jolt of it lasted a long time in her blood.
I’m awake, she said. I am alive.
1 Kings 19: 4-8 Ephesians 4: 30-5:2 John 6: 41-51