Sole Searching: Murr-ma

Murr-ma: walking along in the water searching for something with your feet

It’s just a fragmentary memory from my childhood in our Co Wicklow town at the seaside. I’m knee deep in the water wading through it at the edge where the sea meets the shore and I’m sifting the sand through the sieve of my toes. Now and again I curl my big toe and its neighbour around some new find, unseen beneath the waves but felt, or sensed. And then, balancing precariously, I stand on one foot and lift the other, with its horde, towards my hand.

It might be a toy soldier rescued from the flood, or a heart-shaped stone, or a small coin that had fallen from my pocket. It could be anything, but back then I was too young to know about what was hidden in the depths or about what a sensitive sole could uncover and pull up for attention.

I was thinking about this recently when I came across an insight that on the other side of the globe, in a language barely spoken, where water is scarce and the burning sun scalps the stones, someone came up with a word for the act of walking along in the water searching for something with your feet. Who knew we needed a word for this, for rootling with your toes in a place where eyes are of no use but where a tender sole might come across something valuable or lost while you walk?

The word is murr-ma.

It sounds like our word for a gathering of starlings. It sounds like a moan of pleasure, or the sound of the wind or a low conversation.

The sole is a delicate thing, alive to pain and pleasure. Through it we can know of lesions on the brain or on the spine, because the sole is connected to a whole web of nerves throughout the body.

And the soul guides us in our search for lost things, and forgotten treasures in places where our eyes are of no use. And so today I ask myself, what am I sifting through the stuff of my life to find? In what places am I looking where hands and eyes are of no value but where my sensitive soul might come across something valuable as I walk and where I can curl my toes around it like I might wrap my arms around a loved one, or cling to something for warmth.
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A version of this was broadcast on Monday, 10 Sept 2018 as a Thought for the Day on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme. The audio is found HERE.

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