It’s been just over 24 hours since I arrived back in the U.S. I’m sitting on the patio of my parents’ house, enjoying a smoke and a cup of tea. Don’t laugh, I’ve become quite accustomed to tea over the last month.
The freeway is busy behind the house. Its quite loud, too. The sun is bright and the birds are out en force.
The flight back was long. It was an exhausting day. I can’t honestly say I was thrilled to see LAX.
I’m still adjusting to the time difference. The jet lag isn’t too bad, but it usually hits pretty hard on the second day for me. I don’t mind really. There are plenty of other things I’m becoming accustomed to all over again.
Like driving on the right-hand side of the road, food with tons of flavor, and clearly understanding everyone I speak to.
There’s also the pace of life that will require some time to cope with. When I first arrived in Ireland, I felt as though most things happened in daily life as if they were an afterthought. It was so strange but before long it became quite comfortable to me. Daily activities slowed and required less planning and organization. I would find myself at times just sitting, staring at the hills or the fire, thinking about everything and nothing in particular. Then I would be surprised my the fact that I didn’t know how long I had been sitting and thinking. Time lost a great deal of meaning unless acquiring food was involved.
In fact, time simply slowed down to a near standstill. I fought it at first. The diminished presence of clocks and agendas was so foreign. Then, it just became…well… normal.
I could have stayed much longer. My heart felt so settled, my chest relaxed. I could get used to this, I thought. In fact, I did get used to it. I’m not happy about leaving it behind.
It was time to come back to the States, though. If I didn’t, I don’t know when or if I would ever return. There are still so many things to do here, so many people to be with. And there’s still a U.S. road trip in the very near future.
I spoke early on about not having a home. Did I find one in Ireland? Possibly. But not in any specific location. Just Ireland as a whole. I felt so completely comfortable there after a week or so. Sure, there were some pretty tense moments when the basics of life just didn’t synchronize with mine. I got used to it. I had little choice. I could either complain about it or just learn to cope. Coping requires far less energy. For the most part, the little things that threw me off were just that: little. They really didn’t matter. Not in the grand scheme of things. I’ve been able to come to terms with some difficult issues through this philosphy. I was pleasantly surprised to see it pull me through some not-so-crucial aspects.
I think that’s part of what is keeping me from losing my mind now that I’m back in California. So, I don’t have a home. Big deal. I’ve been through much much worse. What I do have is a warm bed offered by my parents. I have family and friends who are excited about seeing me again. People whom I love and love me who want to visit again or see me for the first time. They all want to hear about my holiday and see the changes it has inspired
Yet, the trip wasn’t a holiday, as most of you already know. It didn’t fit the standard definition by any means. I discovered that as I watched tourists bus into the Glen, unload and wander around for the day. I saw them there in the evening, drinking pints of Guiness at the Roarty’s pub. They would return to the hotel or hostel and leave the next morning, off for the next sight-seeing trip.
One could spend months like that in Ireland, bussing around to see each ruin or church or stone. Catch the local flavor in the nearest oak-lined pub and arrive home with role upon role of film of beautiful bogs and glens.
If you did spend your holiday like that, I’m afraid you would have missed one of the most incredible aspects of Ireland: the people that live here.
You can pick them out of the crowd, even in Dublin. They’re the ones not rushing about. I’m not saying they’re lazy by any means whatsoever. There are plenty of activities to keep your day full. They simply move at a different speed.
Unfortunately, its very difficult to describe. What I did find was that after being there for only a month, I didn’t feel like a tourist any more. I was treated, spoken to and wandered as a local. People stopped asking me where I was from which means that the guaranteed follow-up question of when I was leaving also disappeared. I actually began to feel as though I fit in. A new resident, if you will. I’ve never lived anywhere and really fit in. I’m used to being the outsider, which is okay. But feeling so comfortable in a strange place was totally shocking. I didn’t realize the extent of which until after I arrived in California.
Getting to know people around the Glen helped. I was no longer that guy who was seen at pub last night, I became known as Aidan. Aidan, the wandering American diver. There were smiles when I walked in. Not because I was going to spend money, but because I was recognized and my presence was truly appreciated. I could sit and talk or listen, enjoying warm conversations about any range of topics. It was like my own personal version of Cheers. No one shouted my name when I walked in, but it was close.
I made some fantastic friends along the way. Ones that I hope to remain in contact with. And many that I know that I will see again, hopefully someday soon.
I hated leaving. Part of me stayed in Ireland and somehow, I brought more of myself back with me than I arrived with.
I found so much that its difficult to describe. A great deal of my discovery occured within me.
I ran into a man and his girlfriend at a pub in Strandhill, outside of Sligo. I sat reviewing my weathered map, wondering where I might like to venture to the next morning. He approached me, apologizing for the interruption.
“My girlfriend,” he began in a thick Scotish accent, “noticed you were looking at a map and wondered where you were from.”
I told him. He asked where I was headed to.
“I don’t know,” I replied, “I’m just wandering aimlessly.”
“Ahhh,” he smiled, “You’re in seaerch of something.” God, was it that obvious?
“I guess. I’m not entirely sure.”
“Oh,” his smile thinned, but his eyes softened, “or you’re trying to forget something.”
“No,” I replied, “that will never happen.”
We looked at each other for a moment. He smiled again and rest his hand on my shoulder. We shook hands firmly as he bid me good evening and thanks for the chat.
Later, as the evening moved along, he and his girlfriend rose to leave. At the door, he called across the bar to me, “Farewell to you. I do hope that you find what you are looking for.”
I smiled and waved thanks.
“Me too,” I thought, “me too.”
I don’t know what I was really looking for in Ireland outside of some much needed rest. I wondered, after my conversation with the nameless Scotish bloke, if it was possible to find something without knowing what you were looking for.
I think it is possible. In fact, I found a lot in Ireland that I didn’t know I was looking for. I found new friends, new places, times of quiet and peace and occassionaly solace. I found laughter and tears, both new and old. There were insights into my life, this new world I’ve been blundering in aimlessly since Christina’s death.
I didn’t find anything grandious or permanent like a new home or job, a new purpose or mission. What I did find was far less defined, lacking of concrete or absolute certainty. These realizations were soft, subtle and less defined than whatever it was that I may have hoped for. And they didn’t come in great flashes of light or a burning bush. What I found were aspects of me, glimpses of what’s still important, what isn’t and new ways to make it through a day.
I did, however, notice something very concrete on Monday as I wandered around the Newgrange burial mound. I didn’t realize it until I was leaving, heading towards the parking lot and eyeing the neighboring fields for other mounds. I had just experienced one of the oldest surviving structures built by human hands (over 5000 years old) and had a great time. I sat in wonder and amazement, soaking in the magnitude of the site. It was fascinating and, strangely, quite comforting. I noticed however that unlike the dozens of other tourists around me, I was alone.
And for the first time in what seems to be an eternity, that was okay. I could experience enjoyment, satisfaction, fascination and discovery on my own…again. Feeling this was good.
I was in absolute isolation for a year and it was horrible. Then I wasn’t alone for a long while and I feared with all of my being that I couldn’t bear to be alone again. But, in Ireland I was alone and I found it was okay after some time. I felt as though I was growing into my new self somehow. I’m still learning as I review the events and emotions I encountered there.
I crossed the bridge over the Boyne river, facing the soft afternoon rain, hands buried deep in my Navy P-coat, head tucked into my shoulders, shielding my ears from the wind. I thought about all of this. I thought about the strange Scotsman and his words. I thought about two of my aunts insisting that I visit Newgrange. I wonder if they knew something I didn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised. Life works like that sometimes. And occassionally, you just have to go with it. I stopped halfway across the bridge and peered down the gorgeous valley.
Something happened then. Something took over within me and I didn’t want or need to fight it off.
And it was good.