Prince and Dr John
I have a friend. We’ll call him Dr John. I say ‘have’, but I haven’t spoken to him in thirteen years. Before that, maybe another thirteen. One of those friends you know deep enough for long enough when you’re young enough, to know that if life goes on and you don’t see each other, you can always reach out if you want to and the other will take your hand. And they’ll do their best. 

I remember dissecting a brain with him at medical school. Differentiating the lobes. Feeling the strange, cupped heft of it in my hand. Wondering how what happened in there became what happened out here.

Although despite dropping out of medicine that year after losing my faith (Ireland was still Ireland then), some part of me thought: there must be more to it than that. 

And I see this image now, and I see John. Immediately. Not Dr John, or even the consultant, Mr. John, on the other side of the surgeon’s mask. I see John, before we held that brain in our hands, and I lost my faith and certainty. John, with his wide gait and National Health glasses, tender and fierce in the uncertainty of his exam-earned place at the Catholic grammar school. I see us in the front room of his parent’s ex-council house in Belfast, flicking through his brother’s Springsteen records. Discovering Prince and the Revolution, and the bone deep, sap-rising funk and swagger of them. Dirty Mind. Controversy.

Purple Rain.

I see John, and I feel fourteen years old again, sitting in the back of a cheap school bus on the way to a basketball game somewhere in Wexford, holding on to my spending money so I can go and buy Parade.

And I want to sit with him somewhere quiet and not say very much. Maybe give him the odd grin and see if he returns it with a nod of the head or a caught-breath laugh of his own. Or tell him I love him and that I hope he and his wife and family are well, because we are long past the half-way point of our lives. Which I could, of course, do any day of the week on Facebook.

But reaching out means something different now than it did in the nineteen eighties.

And there is always much more to it than that.