The whole business with Edward Snowden and surveillance did not come as a surprise to me. I have always assumed that someone, somewhere was watching.
No, I’m not paranoid. You see I was raised Irish and Catholic and, when I was a kid, my mother had eyes in the back of her head and could see across all four, if not five, dimensions. And she had the ability to read my thoughts—even before I thought them. “Don’t even think about it?” she’d warn and I’d stand there, stunned and struggling to blank my mind before I did anything to add to my guilt.
As well as being my mother, she was also a teacher. In other words, she was the complete and perfect dictator, benign when it suited and draconian when the situation called for it.
The outside world was no better, the women of the neighborhood were everywhere, watching, filing and disseminating all that went on back up the grapevine. Passing comments, too, to let you know that they were there and you were never beyond their range.
School was even worse, run by nuns who were trained and skilled in the dark arts of espionage. They could turn any lesson into a data gathering exercise. They could find out what we had for breakfast in several languages. The ‘How I spent my vacation,’ essays were nothing less than written statements full of incriminations about ourselves and our families. And, if any of us resisted or showed any reticence, there was always Confession.
Dark and confined, we would kneel and give up all that the data-gatherers had missed, fearful that the dark shape on the other side of the grill would reach out like the Spanish Inquisition and thumb-screw all sin from us. And afterwards, as an example to others, we had to kneel outside where the whole parish could see and say our penance while keeping an eye on everybody around you. Nobody wanted to be the last one—the one who got more than all the rest. It was like when the Pope used to make errant kings sit on the steps of St. Peter’s in sack cloth and ashes.
And then there was God, the ultimate eye-in-the-sky. Nothing that you had done, did, or might do escaped him. He knew before you did and had probably already consigned you to Purgatory or Hell.
Not surprising that I became a rebel and moved my life into the underground but even there safety was not assured. Informers and spies were everywhere. Kids that you shared a cigarette with would give you up to save their own skin. Girls that you had tried to steal a kiss from would turn on you when you moved on to their friends, ratting you out to the nuns, who’d pass it on to the priest, who was sure to tell your mother while God looked on in dismay that was sure to become vengeful fury. It was no wonder that when I was old enough, I sought refuge in the only place where men could be themselves.
Pubs. They were the last places where subversives could huddle and scoff at all the sheep who bleated that they were indeed free. We were the only truly free, even if only for as long as our money lasted.
Poets, politicos, paramilitaries and folk-singers, we gathered in clusters and whispered about the revolution that was just around the corner. And it was in a pub that I met Joe who always smiled like a Yogi because he said it would drive the ever-present watchers mad wondering what he was up to.
So now, many years removed from all that was, I write what I think and feel so that there can be no mistake: I am, always was, and always will be me, like it or lump it.
And my advice to you: fear nought and dance like somebody is always watching. Twerk if you must and frolic like a pagan. You can blame it all on Social Media. Break wind loudly and often to startle eavesdroppers. You can always blame it on the dog because he knows: freedom is just a state of mind.
Reproduced from Part of the Story - the free quarterly for the The Story Plant