The Paradox of Crowds

Well, the good (blog) intentions went by the wayside over the summer – sorry for months of cyber-silence. The summery lull is well and truly a fading memory. I am still in the student world these days, as I am a student again myself! For those of you who have been following my RELAY updates, I can confirm that I got into the course I applied for and I’m now taking part in a masters programme. Thanks be to God.

So, I can still appreciate the benefits of the student lifestyle – a flexible schedule, random chats around college, the good facilities, the discounts… – while maintaining the dignified position of a graduate! Only, I have to pay for it this time.

The engulfing hustle of seeing thousands of students daily – perhaps hourly – is a strange timeless continuum to find yourself in. Sitting on the ground floor of the library, looking out the window at all the people going to wherever they are going, it is a challenging thing to focus on whatever is at hand, rather than stare and wonder at the throbbing throngs outside. There is something addictive in watching other people, so many other people. And it’s not merely a voyeuristic pursuit. The busyness of the campus is captivating. As my eyes jump from one face to another, I feel like I should recognize its owner. Each new visage is another story and sometimes I wonder what that story is.

Yet, at the same time, the busyness is isolating. If you do not know many – or any – people that you normally see in your 9to5 window, these crowded places can be lonely places. Perhaps loneliness is that time when we are most aware of our need for others and when there are no others. This is the paradox of crowds: there are so many others but there may as well be no others. There are so many faces but they’re just faces. That sounds like a big cliche and it probably is but it still strikes me.

Now, I say these things not out of loneliness (well, not entirely) – but out of awareness. I am fortunate to know a good few people on the campus – a few faces in the crowd – and I’ve met a few more since the year began. But all around me there are other faces, other people who must be aware, even if subconsciously, of the paradox of crowds, who haven’t escaped the loneliness of crowds. So, the challenge then is to be more than a face in the crowd. It’s to be someone who opens a door, who picks up a fallen book, who starts a conversation, who chats in the queue. That doesn’t come easily to me though, it takes effort and confidence and risk and time and ultimately, well, you could call it having an interest in others or you could even call it love. But these are what make a relationship and when we are lonely, perhaps that’s when we are most aware that relationship is what we need.

Trying not to avoid you in a crowded place,


PS. India Knight – in the Sunday Times on 12/10/08 – wrote about how us westerners are so religiously consumeristic. She mentioned the carried-along-with-the-crowd effect – how we get carried along by the bouyancy of being in a crowd and are uplifted by it, especially when shopping. So, perhaps my thoughts on crowds aren’t so watertight.

Lull-ing About

Well, it’s been over a month since my last post. I am still here. The post-students-finishing-up lull never really happened. I’ve been kept busy with finishing off the study programme; organising youth events and going to different events. Still, their has been a lull of sorts – a lovely summery lull with relaxed mornings and time for elevenses amongst a few hectic youth weekends with little sleep – and things have genuinely been a bit more sensibly paced than during the past academic year, during the weekdays, anyway. I’ve just put up my last RELAY Update, if you’d like to read some of my musings on the year.

Lovin’ the lull-bathin’,


Who am I?

This is the very first post on my blog. Aaw. This is the spot on the net where I’ll share some of my musings, stories, experiences, thoughts, pet hates, learnings, wonder-ings, ideas and other cerebral antics. I hope you find it enlightening. but first…

Who am I? That is a profound question and as you may guess, I won’t give you the usual name-job-nationality-hobbies-etc kind of story. As regards the name, JaffacakeJim, I’m afraid I don’t have an hilarious or even vaguely inspiring anecdote of how it came about. Like many of the strings of characters in cyberspace, it was a name that wasn’t taken when applying for webmail. And yes, I do like jaffacakes.

Back to profundity: Who am I? I recently contributed to a discussion on this very question. (“How convenient for your first blog post.”, you say. That’s what I thought!) It was with a group of Christian students in a Munster college. One of the questions asked was, “if someone asked you, ‘who are you’, what would you say?” The kind of things mentioned above were mentioned then – the usual boxes we like to put others in for ease of sizing them up. Now, while we are not usually asked such direct questions as, “who are you?” or “how would you describe yourself?” (unless at an interview), it struck each of us that the way we tend to describe ourselves is in terms of how other people classify us. Our career, our studies, our nationality, our family status, our hobbies – the kinds of things we can say quickly and easily are what we tell others about ourselves, are what we readily define ourselves by. They are things which are easily defined in themselves – electrician/economist, Irish/Australian, single/married, judo/DIY – we each portray ourselves as a quiz show host would introduce us.

Is that what I am like, though? Do these categories convey who I am? How I think? What I would never relinquish, no matter what? What makes me laugh or cry? What would make me walk out of the cinema? What goes through my mind at night? Who I am when no once else sees? The colour of my mind’s eye? Maybe the typical categories do help to answer these questions but not in any way that I would really stick out in your memory. So, I’m going to let you ask me two questions (well, I’ve asked myself, on your behalf) and I’ll give you two seemingly random lists.

What is important to me? In not a very particular order:

Family. Spirituality. Truth. Friends. Health. Creating. Silence. Communication. Jesus Christ. Books. Technology. Youth. Sound. Sight. Scent. Articulation. Unity. Peace. Eating well. Maturity. Space. Sincerity. Innocent fun. Purity. Forgiveness. Justice. Hope. Sunlight. Music. Caring. Coordination. Friendliness. Constructive criticism. Praying. Being thorough. Honesty. Integrity. What God says.

What do I like – what inspires, what comforts, what titillates, what delights? Well, I like what I have listed as important but here are some more specific things:

Wood. Oats. Chickens. Grass. Apple trees. Heat. Eyes. Lists. Eccentricity. Pets. Holidays. Hardware stores. Gardens. New clothes. The smell in my garden shed. Eggs. My Apple Mac. Processes. Organising. “Doing jobs” on a Saturday morning. A good chat. Fire. Dressing smart. Photography. My Christian faith making sense. Little flowers. Large quantities of basic foodstuffs. Good pens. Cycling downhill. Trying to talk about God. Trying to talk to God. Trying to listen to God. Dwelling on things. Helping people. Laughing uncontrollably about nothing. Self control. Cold, dry mornings. Satisfying exertion. Boogeying it down. When I fix things. Catalogues. The smell of rain showers. Seemingly random lists.

I hope that gives you a flavour of who I am. Tune in next time and I’ll tell you about why I started this blog.

Until then, it’s your turn: who are you?

Awaiting my own return,