CORK writer and comedian Maeve Higgins’ latest book, Tell Everyone on This Train I Love Them, takes its title from the last words of a dying man.
In 2017, 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche was killed on a train in Portland, Oregon, when he intervened in a racist attack on two teenage girls by white supremacist Jeremy Christian.
Another passenger, Ricky John Best, a father of four, was also killed, and a third passenger, Micah David Cole Fletcher, was badly injured when they too tried to stop the attack on the girls. Although Christian in name, there was nothing Christian about the frenzied stabbing which was inflicted upon the three men.
As Taliesin lay dying from his fatal wounds, another passenger Rachel Macy knelt down beside him to offer comfort and succour, and it was to her that he whispered his parting words: “Tell everyone on this train I love them.”
In choosing these heroic words as the title to her book, Maeve signals that the only way forward in this fractured world torn apart by racism, war and hatred, is for humanity to engage in universal love, and these essays attempt to unpick just what that means.
At the start of the book, she cites a quote from philosopher and Holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt to pose the question: ‘Love of the world - why is it so difficult to love the world?’
Maeve tries to make sense of this fundamental question, internalising her reactions to events in the country she has chosen as home, and by examining big societal issues with urgent curiosity through the lens of an Irish immigrant living in the USA.
The essays are forged under a backdrop of the recent and unfolding story of America, taking in inequality, global warming, migration, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Maeve grew up in Cobh, a place echoing with the ghosts of generations of Irish emigrants who took the ship to America from there, never to return. In contrast, she returns regularly to her native Cork, which she loves.
Lean On Me recalls growing up in Cork, with one brother and six sisters. She sees them as more than siblings, they are also her best friends. She writes about her early life, doing jobs on Saturday mornings when her parents went to the market in Cork, and trying to dodge the task of cleaning out the ashes from fire, all under the watchful eye of her older sister.
She remembers how, as a young child, she was accidentally left behind in a carpet shop in Midleton, and in that short time, before her mother noticed her absence, she realised it was the first time she never had a family member physically nearby.
Maeve (right) recalls the loneliness of the pandemic, living in an isolated world cut adrift from loved ones, severed from the comfort of family. Although she eschews the idea of ‘lessons learnt’ - she writes - “I can’t stand it when horrible and senseless things happen and people insist on finding some neat takeaway to make sense of it all”, and she shares her post lockdown ‘conclusion’ as “You’ll snort when you hear, because it’s incredibly obvious - I really, really REALLY missed my friends”.
In Situational Awareness, she visits a Border Patrol Expo in Texas, where “tequila flowed and suited men with buzz cuts were slapping each other on the back”.
She reflects upon what it means to divide up territory on planet Earth.
“Take a border. Often it is an invisible line decided by someone a long time ago, who may never even have been that place in their life. And we are all supposed to just agree that yes, this is the border, there lies a different state, and here we are, and yes, there is a famine here, but we must all die quietly now because we all agree that we are not allowed to step over the magic invisible line decided by a stranger many years ago. It is, and I say this after careful consideration, absolutely crazy.”
In Bubbles and Planks, readers looking for comedic relief won’t find a lot to laugh about.
One might expect some high jinks recorded after she inadvertently scoffs a bag of sweets laced with marijuana, but her reaction to her accidental consumption resulted in her feeling that she had lost her mind.
In this cautionary tale, she reflects “I want to know about consciousness and whether or not my mind is all I am. Is it too much to ask some guy in a kitchen mixing weed with lychee fruit juice and vegan gelatin alternatives?”
These essays are imbued not so much by a quest for the American Dream, but rather with an emigrant’s dream, and hope for a more equitable future.
Tell Everyone On This Train I Love Them, by Maeve Higgins, published by Penguin/Random House. Available now.