May the road rise to meet you,
may the wind be ever at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.
– Traditional Irish Blessing
I recently returned from a week-long trip to Ireland. I traveled around the country alone for the majority of the trip until my daughter who has been in France for nearly three months joined me at the end. And it was good. It was very good.
There is so much to say, some I am still processing and tons more than you likely will sit still long enough to read in a single post so I’ll share just a bit for now.
After a long, overnight flight I settled into a weekend of exploring the delights of Dublin. My first day I walked nearly 10 miles (after a nap of course) wandering where whimsy led, here a soaring cathedral crawling with faithful tourists, there an ancient pub bursting with cheerful faces. By evening I had even stumbled upon a thumping, primarily lesbian, nightclub with the light of love’s long search bathing the cobblestone streets through the wide windows.
Sunday I wandered through parks finding Ireland just waking from her long winter’s nap. I strolled around St. Stephen’s Green with tears of joy blurring my vision and with a penny made a wish in the Three Fates Fountain. As my wondering and wandering ways continued I walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral where it was not only Palm Sunday but also Bach Sunday. The St. Patrick’s Choir and orchestra blessed me with what appears to have been a rehearsal. While quietly taking it all in I happened upon a candle station where I ignited one tiny flicker. I left a note in the prayer journal asking the priests to pray for peace on my journey leaving Christianity in search of Christ. After a day of exploring I found myself at the feet of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Park where we reflected on my journey so far and the promise of mystery ahead. Oscar’s words (etched in a nearby hunk of marble) soothed and prepared me. “For he who lives more lives than one More deaths than one must die.” – from “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”
The next day I headed to the city center to pick up a car to drive across Ireland. City mouse was looking forward to heading into the country but in no way could comprehend the impact it would have on her.
The roads of Ireland seem to have been trying to teach me lessons about living. Driving alone, and in silence for hours at a time, I tried my best to listen to what they were saying.
All that I knew about driving was immediately flipped from what I had previously known. Much like the early days of coming out or in the wake of my divorce, I found myself sitting in a disorienting driver’s seat while concentrating on maintaining a side of the road my whole life I had been taught to avoid. At first it took incredible focus, an immense amount of patience and a generous dose of good humor. Fortunately, kind locals who had seen a lifetime of drivers like my silly American self surrounded me. The only way I survived was by trusting myself and accepting the grace of others.
My exit from the city, on the fast paced motorways, was smooth at first and just as I began to relax slightly, I encountered my first series of roundabouts. Here and there I would enter the swirl of vehicles as we each hurled toward our different destinations. For just a moment, we shared the center, cooperating the best we knew how, to allow each to make their own way. Then as I exited I would roll smoothly until my GPS would chatter once more “enter roundabout”. For each roundabout I would muster (maybe not in equal proportions) trust in my fellow motorists, courage to enter the stream and sharp focus in case any of us screwed up. If I missed my intended exit I would have to make the orbit another time until I could find my way. There was no time or need to scold myself for missing my turn – only time to try again.
The long and winding road
As the motorways slipped into narrow roads, winding in and out of villages, towns and small cities, it was the road, not my will, that determined how fast I could travel. Sometimes wide and smooth and often narrow and treacherous, I began to surrender to the unfamiliar journey. Local drivers who had traveled these roads a million times could glide easily though hairpin, cliff-side, livestock dotted turns while every fiber of my body was attuned to keeping myself on the road while trying to sneak glimpses of the new & breathtaking world all around me. It seemed to me that because I had to slow down and navigate consciously, intentionally, that just maybe I had a slight advantage over those who could sail through the landscape with barely an eye open to the craggy, ancient beauty sprawling below and soaring above. In long stretches of mindless tedium I became grateful for the respite from the more arduous work of the journey.
The promise of mystery
On my journey from one place to another I began to trust the unknown. Each mile I had only the road as a companion and occasionally she would surprise with the gift of incomprehensible vistas full of soaring sky, impossibly blue water, rolling land dotted with tiny houses & fat, shuffling sheep. She would also close in tightly around me with precarious stone walls leaning and lurching in frightening ways and placing in my path an occasional, hapless sheep taking her roadside supper completely unbothered by the awestruck traveler passing by. I rolled on with faith that I would descend into a snug village where the whisky warms and the company comforts. And so I did.
Traveling alone was good but being welcomed into strangers’ homes and sitting with new neighbors at open tables was truly amazing. The sharing of our stories, snippets and snapshots of our individual journeys, made each stop home. It is the people along the way that made my trip a true wonder. These connections, though brief, reverberated with the truth that we are all on a journey even if we’ve left home.
My greatest joy
When my journey merged briefly with my daughter’s I rediscovered the greatest joy I could ever know – the love and companionship shared between her and I. In this space, far from home, at once foreign then immediately delightful to us both, we explored our new corner of the world as equals. Equals!
The journey is not always easy but it is ever rich with opportunities to be cautious, courageous, wary, trusting, frustrated and hopeful. Sometimes we move slower than those around us (causing a wake of frustrated sojourners) and sometimes we sail deftly around the curves the road offers us. And then, along the journey there are wonders that welcome us – sometimes as great as the crashing waves below soaring cliffs but more often than not, small moments strung together by open tables, shared meals, warm smiles and resting in the knowledge that you are welcome.
Here are just a few of the hundreds of photos I took along the way. If you want to torture yourself with the whole lot, be my guest 🙂