Tag Archives: adventure

Rocky Start in Dublin _ Ireland, the 12th of June

It is seven A.M. The Dublin Airport is very quiet as we make our way toward customs, and then baggage claim. We retrieve our things, and I’m carrying the lightest load.

“Let me take that for you,” I offer to my mom who appears to be struggling under a lot of heavy shoulder bags.

“No, I want to carry it. It’s easier for me, I have everything balanced already,” she replies, adjusting herself like someone begrudgingly resigned to a difficult mission.

I shrug. Since I’ve known my mom my whole life, I’m well aware that it isn’t beneficial to argue with her– she will invariably and stubbornly stick to her decision. This is a wonderful trait to have while carrying a cause, I reflect, such as when she’s involved in advocacy. It is not, I observe, as helpful when applied to carrying heavy physical objects while navigating an unfamiliar area. I’d like to simply reach over and take matters into my own hands, as it were, but decide to link arms with her instead. With my brothers close by, the four of us start off to find the exit for the transit bus.

As we walk, my mind is racing with expectations, questions, concerns, curiosity, and excitement. Everything around me takes on an air of significance. Possibilities glimmer, the newness of it all shines bright and clear, and my awareness takes on a sharp focus.

It’s just that, so far, nothing is worth writing home about. The smells are airport smells. The sounds are airport sounds. If I were not hearing conversations spoken with Irish accents and the occasional dialogue in a language other than English, I would be unable to distinguish this airport from any other. Okay, I think, I couldn’t have realistically expected myself to feel a sense of familiarity right off the plane. That rarely happens, if at all. I tell myself not to worry, the recognition of this place will come.

Perhaps, I consider, I’ll need to get outside to really start to sense the energy of the land and any connection I might have with it. This thought makes a great deal of sense, so while we acquire euros and ask for more directions, I don’t let the lack of homecoming feeling bother me. But the worry returns when I do go outside, walking between terminals. Nothing happens, and I can’t figure out why.

Once we and our luggage have successfully made it onto the bus, I sit back in my seat and continue observing. The first thing I notice is that Caoilte is standing between me in the seats in front of us. I appreciate that this wouldn’t be very possible were he embodied without it getting awkward, but as things are, we are both unphased. I turn to tell mom that he’s joined us. Though she can’t see people from the other world, she’s supportive of the fact that I can, and says she’s glad we’re being looked out for.

The second thing I notice is that this is not your typical shuttle, but a cross between an airport and tour bus and I’m immediately captivated. We are driving past low grey rock walls, the Liffey river, over a suspension bridge… Mom describes what is out the window the best she can, but my attention is split between her and the tour guide, both talking, as well as the banter of the passengers around me.

I am fascinated by how many different Irish accents there are, and pleasantly surprised to hear so many friendly conversations, punctuated by laughter, empathic exclamations, good humored disputes, and a general warmth I have never encountered on public transit in the Bay Area. I over hear a conversation in which it sounds like one person addresses another as Éilis, and I smile to myself.

This is fun. Except, apart from the entertaining tour and my excitement at finally being here, I am not feeling well at all. The slight headache which was bothering me in the airport has now escalated into feelings of nausea and more discomfort than I will let on about. When it gets to the point that I can’t ignore how I feel, however, I finally look up at Caoilte, who appears concerned, and ask if he can help. To my relief, he says he can. He begins to put light around me and as long as I look at that light, I feel well enough to continue being present and engaged with what’s going on around me.

Five or so minutes pass. Presently, mom asks me whether Caoilte might be able to arrive ahead of us to the hotel and find out if we can check in early. I think we’d all love to wash up before heading out, and the normal check in time is 2 pm. I run this by Caoilte who thinks it over, appearing concerned. I can do that,” he says finally, “but you shouldn’t be left alone. Ailbhe says she can look in on you from outside the bus, but I don’t think that’s enough. You know how she is more than hesitant to be riding on it. She’d prefer that you weren’t in here to begin with”

I smile. Yes, I am well aware: after the first time she went on a bus with me, she emphatically said she hoped never to go on one again. But I am perplexed by Caoilte’s reluctance to leave us be for a moment, since nothing about the situation seems worrisome or dangerous, and I tell him so. I attempt to reassure him by saying, “We’ll be fine here for a little while, I’m sure. It’s more than fine with me if Ailbhe keeps an eye on us from a distance.”

“All right,” Caoilte agrees without conviction, “But only because Ailbhe promises to alert me immediately if I’m needed here.”

As we continue moving through a couple more stops, I try to keep up a conversation with mom who is reading me interesting tidbits from our Ireland travel book. I want to be radiant and happily absorbed in this adventure, but am feeling miserable again.

It dawns on me, then, that I’ve only been feeling okay when Ailbhe or Caoilte has been weaving light for me. But if that’s the case, I reason, surely I can’t possibly request this of them for the entire trip. Doing so would be wholly impractical, unsustainable, and not fair to them. I lean my head back on the seat, struggling to stay alert.  I’d choose being sick over needing to constantly be kept under watch, for the sake of my kin, but the idea of not feeling well for the next eleven days, instead of getting to participate with a semblance of vitality puts me in despair. I close my eyes, pleading quietly with the universe to please let me get well in some relevantly permanent fashion.

At that moment, Caoilte reappears, his facial expression somewhat unfathomable and that’s not only because I’m not up to making keen observations. Before doing anything else, however, I ask after what he’s found out in answer to mom’s question, and quickly find myself taking up the role of translator. This takes a lot of concentration, and for a few seconds everything else fades into the background.

I describe to mom what the lobby of the hotel looks like, and that yes, we can check into our rooms earlier than the planned 2 PM, but not until noon, which I add doesn’t make much difference for us as we’ll be leaving before then to have lunch with Bro1’s fiance’s brother who is often in Dublin for work. Then I fall quiet, because I’ve exhausted myself.

“That was not worth leaving you for,” Caoilte says quietly, wrapping more light around me and sending me a picture to close my eyes and breathe. “I got back as fast as possible. I should have insisted on saying no first off.”

“No need to apologize,” I reply, “I’m the one who insisted I could be on my own.”

At that, he nods somewhat forlornly. “Be still and rest for a minute,” he says. Though my physical eyes are closed, I watch, profoundly grateful, as he sends light through me, until my head is mostly clear and the nausea is gone. I thank him silently, glad he can read my intentions. I never have words for this.

Finally we get off the bus and, only after a little searching, find our hotel. Once inside mom asks the woman at the desk what time we might be able to check into our rooms.

‘”Let me see,” she says cheerfully, and pulls up information on her computer. “We do have your rooms available a bit early. They’ll be ready at noon.” I am grinning, and don’t care if no one knows why. I translated perfectly.

Much later, I am in my hotel room with mom, still feeling lousy. Trying to help, she googles my symptoms which have only grown in number and intensity. “You’re probably experiencing the beginnings of a sinus infection, and there’s nothing we can do about that. Besides that, you’re having an anxiety attack,” she says, and reads off the list of anxiety symptoms. I check off yes for every one.

I’m not surprised about the sinus issues, but anxiety? That startles me. How could fulfilling one of my greatest dreams provoke a bout of anxiety unlike any I’d ever experienced in my life? My mind draws a blank, but this turns out to be the clue I’m looking for. It strikes me that, far from being anxious about what is happening, I am actually very anxious about what isn’t happening. We’ve walked the Dublin streets, had lunch, even went into an old cathedral with an awesome statue of a bishop, no longer possessing a head, and still I haven’t felt that kind of belonging I was longing to feel.

I tell myself that I may never know why I don’t feel this way, and will have to be okay with that possibility. Meanwhile, I need to get well for the trip’s duration. What to do? As if in answer, Brighid’s face appears in my mind’s eye. We’ll be visiting her sacred well later in the week, and my ancient kin look to her for answers to their questions. I’m not messing around then, I’ll ask the Irish goddess of healing and the forge of transformation herself for a local miracle. Why not? I don’t pray, I feel that’s a Christian thing. But after spending five minutes fervently requesting healing for the duration of the trip in exchange for being able to properly honor her and our kin, the division between what counts and doesn’t count as a prayer is substantially blurred for me.

I am left with the picture of the words, “rest now” and an image of a rose quarts butterfly I brought with me for what, at the time, seemed like no apparent reason. I understand and agree.

A half an hour later I walk with mom and Bro2 out into the evening sun–it stays light here passed nine pm–and we take a tour bus around the city. Bro2 drifts in and out of sleep.

Wind whips my hair. The bus driver fearlessly starts to sing Molly Malone out of tune over the loud speaker. At a particularly long traffic light, he changes from Irish tunes to something like “Move along, move along, get moving, go.” Mom and I exchange knowing glances, delighted: he’s energetically making the light change faster, perhaps without knowing it, just like mom and I do in the car.

“I told you it’s an Irish thing,” mom says. And whether or not we’ve inherited this trait from our ancestors, we laugh.

And I am changed too, though in my case I definitely know it, and am profoundly grateful. I feel like myself again, and will continue feeling fine until I once again cross the pond.

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Arrival, Ireland, June 11

I awake prior to the alarm, and wonder whether it was never set and we’d miss the flight. It is Thursday the 11th of June. Our sojourn to Éire is finally upon us. At last, we will set foot in the home of our ancestors, that landscape that has captured my heart and called to me in dreams and images since I was a child.

What will it be like to arrive, I wonder. Will I recognize the very air, the very ground on which I stand? Will I be washed with that peculiar achingly peaceful relief of belonging, the one I fell into when I met my ancient family for the first time in this life? What time is it? Has the alarm gone off? I nudge my mom who is sleeping: “Is it after five?”

“No,” she says groggily, “go back to sleep.”

But I don’t sleep. I am hot and restless and anxious, about, I realize, more than simply the reason that I am finally fulfilling a dream that I’ve had for so long. I am traveling to Ireland with my mom and two brothers, (Bro1 and Bro2 named in order of descending age), and whether we will get along is a question who’s answer remains elusive.

Yesterday, Bro2 picked me up around 4 PM. As soon as he walked into my apartment, he began to rage about his challenges in life, his newest altercation with mom, and how he couldn’t stand being around her. I was sort of prepared for an excited, “Hi Éilis, good to see you, I’m so excited,” comment. I certainly wasn’t expecting a tirade. I was particularly stunned to find myself confronting a young man disguised as a ferocious gorilla carrying on in my space and bashing our mother, who was paying for all of our flight and room expenses on the trip, no less. I tried calming him down, after all, I was excited myself, and wasn’t about to let someone spill negativity all over me just because I was the human in close range.

Bro2’s attitude set the precedence for the tenor of the rest of the day, however, affecting not just me but the rest of the family as well. By nine PM, tentions among everyone skyrocketted. There was, certainly, a period of peace in all this to be had: it was on the car ride from Berkeley to Walnut Creek, during the times when my brother and I listened to a podcast recounting the rebellion and execution of Anabaptists in Münster Germany during the sixteenth century. (No, I am not kidding.)

Now, up before dawn, I wonder dubiously whether things will continue as they are and, if so, how I can possibly handle it for eleven days. But I’m going to be in Ireland! This thought alone seems to keep worry at bay, until I get up at dawn and find I am so dizzy that I have to sit down on the floor.

I am subsequently not so aware of any of my family members, as I go through the motions of getting in the car, standing on the train to the airport, and going through security, all the time feeling disturbingly ill. This lasts until I get some medicine during the layover in Chicago. Then, perhaps due to the medicine alone, perhaps due to the fact that I have now sat down in the plane that will take me to Dublin, the sudden illness symptoms slowly subside.

My brothers are safely sitting tucked away in the row behind me, and I’m sitting next to my mom. She’s in the window seat, which I feel is only right given that she’s the one who can see what’s on the other side of the glass.

I sleep, eat dinner, sleep, eat Breakfast, and sleep some more. During the times when I am awake, however, I find I cannot stop thinking about how strange it is to be returning by air through roughly the same route my ancestors took to get here, and how their travels were far more treacherous than mine.

We have an ancestor, James O’Cahill, who emigrated to America from Tipperary sometime in the seventeen hundreds. He would have made this journey in reverse, on a ship, with at least six to eight weeks time in transit. The ocean to him would not simply be a vast wonder to marvel at down below, while residing safe and in sanitary comfort in a pressure controlled cabin in the sky. For him, and for all those who left Ireland whether for the sake of adventure, to escape the engulfing wasteland of hunger, or to ride the wind in desperation before a relentless pursuing tide of imperialism and fear, the journey would prove to be a right of passage, as much as a passage of time, and for most there was only a one-way ticket. Among their challenges would have been their daily awesome and terrible encounters with a dynamic and sometimes ferocious sea, with the power to force respect and intimacy beyond what anyone perhaps had ever imagined or ever wanted to endure. The ocean could give as much as take life, and this was no metaphor. Both the ship, and whatever conditions prevailed on it, as well as the sea itself were guaranteed to transport one to a new world, but for some, it was not America or any where in this world at which they would ultimately arrive.

James O’Cahill did make it to America alive, settling in Iowa, where several members of each generation of the family, including my grandfather, were born. It is because of this ancestor’s journey, and the wondrous, brave, and I am sure sometimes harrowing ventures of many others, that I even exist, let alone have the privilege to “hop the pond” in less than a day, with an almost certain safe arrival and a guaranteed round trip ticket. The primary emotion residing within me as I fly effortlessly over the Atlantic, then, is profound humility.

Some time later, I awake from a long nap to find that mom has taken several pictures of the sun as it slowly inches its way up and over the horizon. I stare out the window, imagining what it would look like to watch the dawn while following after it, way above the clouds. At first I cannot picture anything at all. Then, a scene unfolds for me.

I watch, breathless and bewildered, as in my mind the earth turns, and the sun stands still. We say the sun rises, but literally, the sun, being a star, orbits nothing, while the earth spins, both on itself and around the sun. This is the way, then, that the scene begins.

As the plane moves relative to the earth, I picture for an instant every time zone in the world. To say it is 5 AM in Ireland and 9 PM of the previous day in California, simultaneously, is accurate at one level and misleading at the next. Our conception of time, I realize, is only relative to perception.

Relative to the sun, every place on the earth is now, is the present. Everyone on earth is, at every moment, experiencing what is now to them, and that now is always some proportioned mixture of darkness and light. Though some of us might talk of “losing” or “gaining” a day while traveling around the world, the truth is that we are always experiencing whatever present moment is occurring within the location in which we find ourselves.

Somewhere in the world is the space-time moment we thought we left behind, or the one we expect to witness in the future, but these are simply moments of now playing out in a continuum of moment, and if we were to view the whole world, we would behold all times at once. So I do this, for an instant in my mind’s eye. I stand outside the world, motionless, and watch as if looking at earth from the point of view of the sun. I watch as light sweeps across the world, illuminating every present moment in consecutive slices of space. It is sunrise, always, somewhere in the world, at any given time. The picture goes by in a flash, while we “chase” the sun, observing sunrise after sunrise, until the snail’s pace at which we soar, slogging along sluggishly with respect to the incredible speed of the spinning earth, means that the sun once again seems to dip below the clouds and vanish from view.

We continue to follow the dawn as we sail over Tipperary, through the heart of Ireland. The loud speaker sounds suddenly. “Flight Attendants, prepare for landing.”

“We did it!” I shout to my mom over the roar of the engine. “We’re here, we’re finally here!”

“I know, I still can’t believe it!” mom replies with equal enthusiasm, squeezing my hand.

Five minutes later, we start our descent into Dublin. Moved by some impulse, I look up then. My ancient kin, I know, will be traveling this whole trip with us. Caoilte has been quietly keeping watch on the plane for this leg of the journey. On the first plane ride to Chicago, he first ran around the cabin, checked out the cockpit, and tried to figure out how the plane’s engines worked before taking his place next to us. He arrived back at our seats with a look of boyish satisfaction, and I was happy that he had a chance to investigate. “Boys and their toys,” as Ailbhe says, having picked up the phrase from somewhere. But she always says this with a playful look in her eye.

Speaking of Ailbhe, I am quite startled to see her when I make to look up into Caoilte’s bright hazel eyes. Ailbhe decisively dislikes being near modern technology, especially anything that rumbles and moves such as cars, trains, and planes. I challenged her once to sit in a car with me, but I’d never known her to appear inside a modern vehicle voluntarily. And yet, here she is, unmistakably standing next to Caoilte, a slight hint of resolute determination masked by her warm smile.

“You’re here!” is all I can think to happily exclaim.

“I wouldn’t miss my own sister’s arrival in the home we once shared, not for the world, even if I have to reckon with a plane to do it, now would I?” Ailbhe answers, posing an inquiry of her own in response to my surprise.

With enormous gratitude, I beam at her. “Thank you,” I say silently, and send her a picture of the way I am feeling, moved by joy, even though she can already see it for herself.

Ailbhe and Caoilte raise their hands, then, in the gesture of greeting: “Welcome home, Éilis.”

Away on Adventure

Hi Everybody,

I thought I’d just let you all know about the reasons for all the silence on the blog. First and unfortunately, I got sick last week. But now, I am well, and am off to Ireland! In fact, I am getting on a plane to Dublin tomorrow morning, bright and early.

I’m absolutely thrilled and excited about the trip, and can’t wait to blog about my adventures and what it will be like to finally arrive at and visit the home of my ancestors. This has been a dream of mine for years, and it is finally reality!

Sadly for you all, however, I will be far away from easy internet access and so will be blog silent. Keep strong though, and I will be back the day after solstice with exciting updates and new wondrous things to share.

In all seriousness, I will miss blogging and most importantly, staying connected with all my wonderful friends here and reading your awesome posts.

Have a wonderful two weeks!

Running Start _ When Two Worlds Meet

November 15, 2013

I am once again walking Aquatic Park. It is the easiest somewhat natural location within walking distance from my apartment which I can navigate without getting lost. Invariably, then, unless I’m at the gym I get my exercise here. As I near a turn on the sidewalk which takes me through a paved, even stretch of trail past a playground, I see Caoilte up ahead. I move to catch up with him, so we’re walking next to each other.

“Hi,” I say in pictures. I would give the hand sign for greeting but just now a manifest person walks by us.

Caoilte beams at me. “You’re walking tall,” he says, light dancing in his eyes.

“Of course I am,” I affirm proudly, smiling at him.

“Do you still want to run with me?” he asks expectantly.

“Sure!” I say, honestly ready to try anything at least once. I do however send Caoilte a picture as a bit of a warning that I have terrible running form, am extremely out of shape as far as running goes, and have been told, with special thanks to patriarchy, that I run “worse than a girl.” Some of this is hardly my fault. I can’t practice running on my own, because it’s not safe to run with a guide dog. For obvious reasons guide dogs are trained to walk ahead of their blind partnered humans, and it’s too easy through the jarring motion of running while holding onto the dog’s harness and moving quickly to pull the dog off course while simultaneously getting ahead of him. That situation can be rather dangerous. Hence why I run in starts and stops lest I get ahead of my dog, and move like I’m expecting to take a nose dive at the ground at any second.

Caoilte thinks this over for a while. Finally he says, “If you run tall like you move when walking tall, you’ll have a smooth motion over the ground. As long as you can see me in front of you, and if you keep in step, you won’t trip on anything or fall. That way you won’t need to run as if you fear a lack of self-protection—keeping your head tucked in and leaning forward so you don’t get hurt makes sense when you’re alone, but slows you down, is more effort on your body while you are going a distance. If you get too far ahead of your dog, too many times, we can walk fast instead.”

This all sounds like an excellent idea to me, even if it’s nothing I have done before, so we take off and have a go at it. I have literally followed in the footprints of otherworld beings before, in those instances on hikes, and in doing so have avoided getting lost, stubbing my toes on rocks and twigs, or veering off the path. It is easy for me then to keep Caoilte in sight, attempt to not run in the somewhat defensive manner I usually do, and place my feet where he does.

I run, easily, for five minutes. Then it gets difficult. Caoilte is deliberately running at my pace, rather than his own, but I haven’t run anywhere since 1996, and unfortunately, that’s noticeable. I am out of breath and a bit lightheaded, and the world is a bit blurry. I keep running for about three more minutes anyway, and then Caoilte stops and turns around. “This is new for you,” he says, ”You look very tired. We should walk the rest of the way.”

I think to myself that yes, there’s a part of me who’d love to switch back to walking now. It’s a lovely idea. The rest of me is not having any of it. Tired? Me? Giving up? Walking? No way. “Thanks,” I reply, “But really I’m fine. I’ll keep going. I really want to try.”

Caoilte’s eyes darken into a look that is serious and stern. “You’re not fine. No amount of tenacity will ever make up for refusing to be honest with yourself and others. You have no need to prove that you can persevere. You have need to learn to care for yourself. We’re walking the rest of the way.”

“I understand,” I say accepting this, and I have no need to argue. I think over what he has said as we fall into step with each other, watching the water and the trees and the crows overhead, and the people we pass by. I realize that we are communicating in the silence without pictures, without language. We do not speak, and yet we are each understood by the other. This is what it is to be seen. It requires no explanations, justifications, or sequences of thoughts to be who we are. I realize this is what connection, genuine connection, is all about, and it can only exist in the presence of authentic honesty and the living of the truth we find within ourselves. I understand beyond thought, because it is now within my experience. I grow.

The Sojourner’s Lament

“We have to give up the life we have planned, in order to have the one that is waiting for us.”
–Joseph Campbell

Ah my friend, what plans have been well-made that have then been undone, what visions of freedom are never born into the world for no reason but that of fear, what successes have never occurred because of the slight possibility of failure, what loneliness was never quelled since the distress of rejection proved stronger, what hopes have been shattered by the begrudging jealous voices of our previous generations, how many people stay in the nest as they’ve been told that there is no reason to look beyond how they were brought up, how many shouts are never heard because mouths have never opened to make them, how many fallen tears, whether of joy or of sorrow, have been lost in the cycles of clouds and rain, how many of us go hungry out of ignorance of what might nourish us, how very few of us take a leap into the unknown and discover we have found all that we are looking for?  How do you ground yourself where you cannot take root? 

 

Ah my friend, how much sadness has already made the face of the world swollen and bloodshot?  Is it sadness or the constant companion of mortality that subdues us into silent murmurings by the sides of the roads?  For life and death are faces of the same coin and the coin can be tossed purposefully or with abandon, all the same.  Do we not wonder while we breathe why we are here?  Do we not stop to marvel at the goings-on of life that persist among and around us regardless of the most violent moments human beings have ever seen?  Perhaps we can learn from our wordless brothers and sisters who survey the world on wing through sky, or consult the ones who put four paws to the ground.  Perhaps we might learn from our own brothers and sisters, gone to rest in the world beyond this world.

 

Oh, will we ever learn, indeed?  We will not ask the flowers, you agree, what they have seen, for even they wish not to recall.  How many dreams lay untouched at the end of lifetimes?  Who will dare to carry out what they long for to come to terms only later with whether they have done right?  You may travel thousands of miles, and still the inner space in which you keep your most hidden thoughts is the largest uncharted ground you will ever find. 

 

You could weep at the enormity of it.  But it is better, you know, to put on some sunglasses and a big funny hat and strike out through the undergrowth:  the unruly branches of unkempt trees, the marshes of memory, the fog of the forgotten.  View it as a great adventure, one you will never chance to make again, and learn to confront all the wild creatures that might cross your path, for they are all parts of you that you have left in shadow.  What dream could you realize once you are this strong?  I think, as it is, you could manage anything you ever thought to be worthwhile doing in this world.  And are you the kind of person who can manage it, regardless of what happens or how many eyes roll in your direction?

 

In this particularly forlorn and unfortunate pop culture, “live life to its fullest,” has become cliche. Life is so fragile.  What can we make of ourselves if we do not know what we, who we are?  Not just what kind of success we can achieve, but what song still sings just beneath the rushing of blood, what landscape is imprinted on our skin, what hard-won determination defines us intricately like the labyrinth of bone that allows us to stand at all. 

 

Ah my friend, if only there were answers.   Anyone who tells you they have the right one is not worth listening to.  Anyone who stares at the sky wistfully and longs for something she cannot speak, treat her like your own relation, , for you surely have seen the same bewildered longing haunting the unfathomable eyes staring back at you from your own mirrored reflection.  Do what is needed for you, then, for there is nothing else, nothing more you could ever ask of yourself.

 

What is waiting for me, my friend, if I close my eyes and let go of this straight and narrow existence I chose for myself so so long ago, thinking then it was all I would ever need?  Do needs change with age, with experience, with growing?  I am here: perhaps this is strength enough to turn my hopes into something real.  Then I will no longer be dreaming of what could be, but find myself being all I could ever dream.