Tag Archives: ancestors

Sadhbh Speaks

Golden tresses spill, a cascade of sun-soaked tears,
And you await homecoming, forever at the threshold of the world.
In the song of silent empty hands, you grieve alone.

The waterfall roars your screams from world to world,
A thousand tumbled beads still rippling with the shimmers of last light’s touch,
Golden tresses spilling a cascade of sun-soaked tears.

I wept such tears once, as the eagle flew far beyond the sky,
Before shadows eclipsed an abandoned sun, or my screams died in singing silence.
If only I’d awaited homecoming, forever at the threshold of the world.

Dear hearth-daughter I never knew, we keen for our deer ones the same.
If you turned just once to look behind you, would you know me by my sad doe eyes?
Your family aches to fill your empty hands with love. There is no need to grieve alone.

***

Photo from Jane Dougherty’s now quite past poetry challenge from way back on the first of June. Check out her blog and all the entries which made it both on time and in the official round-up, Silent Cascade Poetry Entries. We were supposed to use the above poetry form and the words cascade, eagle, tresses, abandon, and rippling. This poem has been in my head in several different versions for the past two weeks but I have fallen seriously behind in all things blogospheric (yes, that’s a real word … starting now!) I’ll keep attempting to catch up again.

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In Between Lives: Ailbhe’s Experience

Some come to this world beyond with eager wonder, the need for resting, the joy of homecoming. I, however, fought fiercely for my life, even after it was very obviously ending. The illness was wasting my body away, but this only had the opposite effect on my tenacity of spirit. I had too much to lose, too much more to do. I suppose I died in battle, but not the kind I wanted to be remembered by. I didn’t win, of course. But I didn’t know any better not to try.

Until Mairin joined me, I was a spirit haunted by the living ones, by the stories I read in their eyes before mine drew closed against the day. But she was not long in arriving, in a way, we were all reunited quite quickly, and this was beyond joy for us.

It is hard to quantify time in the space beyond solid things, where there is growing and changing but no yesterday or tomorrow. But the time does come when we are to start getting ready to experience the adventure of another lifetime. I am grateful and overwhelmed with excitement for this.

***

We are gathered together about a fire that does not burn, a silent glow flitting about shimmering faces. I reach out and take Mairin’s hand. Our hands do not meet, but intertwine, fall together, weave into one another.

All around me, the intentions and feelings of others shine bright against the pale red sky. They form a web of wordlessness which is instantly understood. This is the way of speaking without any need for language and the limits it places on expression.

I am thinking about the world I left behind, where there are rivers and wild boars and hunting and crying and trees and beer, and passion, and hunger and sorrow and dancing and shouting and running . . . and that solidity I continue to try to touch, that I am not quite used to living without.

None of us feel we have had enough of the world, of moving and living and breathing and knowing the beauty and sorrow and joy and somber reflection which is all living out loud. There is much more to experience. There is growing old: most of us have not done so before. There is growing and learning new things, and, I probably mentioned this before but, there’s beer. I mean, I miss food, and eating, a lot.

I miss sunrises and singing the song of the dawn to a real dawn. I miss screaming and climbing trees. I miss knocking out anyone in my charge who is causing trouble and even miss their causing the trouble in the first place. I’m glad I don’t have to sleep, but miss curling up on a sleeping roll, or even on the hardpacked ground close to the smell of earth and rooted things. I miss all sorts of things,. I’m ready to try my hand at more.

As the day wanes around us, I take notice of the children chasing each other through a field of grasses not far off, and I consider that as much as I enjoy watching them, I could do another life without having children of my own. Taking care of a nine is need enough for responsibility, children are far less capable of feeding themselves. Also children demand a particular kind of patience. I’d have to be able to reconcile myself to many hours of inaction where I’d simply be holding them, and learn to tolerate getting spit up on. Then one day I’d have to provide the means to secure their future. I ran from my future as a child. What’s the point of bringing someone into the world, then demanding she not be who she was born to become?

In this place beyond time, I have reconciled with my birth family. But even now, I hardly spend time with any of them, my sister Mairin being the exception of course. My family is here all around me, laughing and sharing stories, dreaming into being our next try at living. I look out at the fields that sway for miles, full of wildflowers and wilder children. They are not so different, I realize, from the dreams forming shape and dancing in our eyes. Wild ones and our children.

As I Crossed Over: Caoilte’s Experience

It was winter cold, the morning I returned to her. The night was cresting a wave of a darker sea, brightening slowly with patches glimmering brighter than any sun. The light filled every span of sky, until I felt it filter through skin, it was, and was not mine. Boundaries seemed to dissolve, around me, around all I could see from where I was. With quiet curiosity I felt separation fall away, while keeping whole the one I knew as I.

***

The murmur of the surrounding voices, growing sharp with concern, began to fade into a song whose melody I once could follow, but to whose chords I could no longer belong. Why did they weep, my fiercest friends, when I was still here, tinged fair against the depth of sky, shining out all I had ever been? Could they not see me, holding out my hands to them, set free from the bindings of age? For a moment, uncertain, I remained, bewildered, torn, unsure which way to turn.

Then, in fully fledged joy, I leapt between silences, having glimpsed the threshold of a door, and then I knew: the cause of their keening, the body huddled on the floor that once answered to my name. I tried, but could not shout to make known I was there, the same. For a moment I wondered if I might remain alone, if I would wander the in between of worlds as I had done in other ways the whole of my life.

And then, suddenly you were there, grasping my outstretched hands in yours, as strong as I tried to remember you. This time we would not let go.

I forgot if there were other things I knew, lost as I was in the light-song of you. Joyful tears sparkled in your eyes, eyes like the bright moon, eyes of my love, I dreamed, mere dreams, to see again. Laughing then, you pulled me into your arms, effortlessly carried me, though between us you’d been so much the smaller of the two.

I did not know how to speak in such a new form, but love never needed words. Together at last, we crossed the bridge of light woven with a thousand stars. I’m here, you’re here, and the felt thoughts blend, both of ours.

For there is now no moment to separate us in time, no sequence of nights and days, no leaving behind. No veil, only mist, that parts to the keen eye, with the colors of belonging, an eternal tide, a dance we’re wandering, life into life, and ending in beginning, we do not die.

There is no death, only change. Playful time might rearrange as we let go of what was never ours to own and emerge, as if from the cocoon of a denser, more solid world, into the vibrant song of being, which we have always known. In joyous abandon, we leap into the arms of those who wait for us, united once more, finally come home. We cross the bridge of becoming, Brilliant and bold, and dance the patterns of the light. In us, there is life.

Night of Changes

I dream the stars
Their distant lights gleaming
To guide me home

In the breadth of a night-span
Walk a wide-wheeling world
In wonder

While in timeless torrents
Currents of tides
Dance with wild freedom

Far unseen
Mine, the wild
I will not wander there alone

Before the breaking dawn
Shattered moon dust sinks beneath
The clouds

Of a turning earth
Ah, the rising sun
Begun again the day

Tomorrow’s reign
And will it rain
Sorrow, or joy

The pebbles that once enjoyed
Their places in ancient monuments
Ask these questions too

Of eons and their entropy
The fractal fragile dew
Tumbling through the morning sky

Glistening like spilled memory
Wash the landscape clean
It shines anew

The mists of unknown parting
Uncertainty dark and light
Not yet torn in two

I will spend
Delicious moments
Savoring silence

In the gaps between possibilities
Rest knowing solace
In the shelter of you

Bright one, so you call me
Tonight just silver moon
Shining dimly from half-closed eyes

I dream, I dream, as all we do
The bold go forth
Not half as wise

Be still, let go
And be at peace
Child, you say, I carry you

Hill of Tara Part 2 _ Ireland, 2015

“A’Ma,” the old name pierces through the humming of my bones, as if someone were insistently trying to call me back from some precipice of ancient time over which I might slip out of sight. I stand at the back of a group of at least twenty-five tourists, at the summit of the Hill of Tara. The tour guide is speaking about the Tomb of the Hostages, and how archaeologists believe Tara was probably more of a ceremonial site for the inauguration of kings than the actual dwelling place of any of the high kings themselves.

It’s probably rude, but I ignore her. Archaeological theories simply pale in comparison to my own bone-deep knowing of a very different Tara, a place on which an entire king’s fort stood, which could, when necessary, house over a hundred tens of people.

“A’Ma.” Softer now, the voice parts my thoughts, a mind of its own, diffusing some of the memories, and I take notice, finally stirred enough out of my distant reverie to respond. Moved by the old name of endearment, I look to my right, my eyes falling on the only person who ever spoke that name to me when I was alive, 1800 years ago.

“Ailbhe, sister,” I say excitedly, silently, our conversation as it so often does carrying on through thoughts, intention, images, and feelings. I send her the intention full of feeling, “I am so glad you are here to share this experience with me.” And I am very glad indeed. My immediate family simply would not understand why this place holds such meaning to me, and why I feel the way I do, being here.

“Right now you are more Mairin than Éilis,” she observes, glancing at me thoughtfully.

This makes me a bit uncomfortable. Can she see passed my thoughts which contain my words? Does she see that I have been lost in an ancient reflection? How much of that reflection am I prepared to share? For I was taken, suddenly, back into the days when my name was Mairin, when I was a bandraoi who knew the healing powers of herbs, who protected my people against the unseen and could see the light in all living ones. My memories were not so much of events as feelings, and I felt the way Mairin often felt at Tara, uncertain about her legitimacy and own merits to be present at such a kingly place, haunted by the guilt, almost successfully buried, of abandoning her birth family, and terrified of forever being lost behind the shadow of her sister. The awe and wonder at standing in the boundaries of such a sacred place was there; so was the misgivings of a girl, born a middle child, who disappointed her parents for the second time by leaving her family and a life of a land-owner’s daughter to train as a druid.

Our family was a noble one in status, but not in character. I still don’t remember why it was so dysfunctional, but I do know our brothers were highly favored, and we girls were to have children and continue our mother’s line: our response to which, jointly, was to remove ourselves as fast as possible. Ailbhe had been the first to walk away, taking what she could carry and steeling into the night, only nine years of age, to journey here to Tara and try her hand at becoming a banfhénnid, a warrior of the fianna. But at the time I was only just turned seven, and never fully understood the why of my sister’s leaving. It was a terrible loss for me to spend my days without her, and despite myself, I would wonder whether she might have stayed a bit longer, had I been a better sister.

By the time we found each other again, I was a full bandraoi and Ailbhe was the rigbanfhénnid of fian 4, she had a nine of her own. I feared all those years of separation could have been enough to distance us, but the love and loyalty we had toward one another as children did not fade with time. And so I chose to serve her community rather than that of our birth family, who had nothing for us, and those years together at Almu were the happiest in my life. … And yet, I always wondered whether my sister influenced my acceptance, and whether I would have qualified on my own. And so, at Tara, I would spend much time fighting a gnawing insecurity I felt surely druids ought not possess.

I can tell that Ailbhe has seen these thoughts and feelings. For an instant, part of me worries she will judge me for it, but I know her well enough to know better. Instead, she looks me in the eye and says, “I was always so proud to be your sister.”

I shoot her a thought that I am going to get emotional and can’t randomly start crying in the middle of a large tour group. Ailbhe breaks out with a knowing sisterly grin: “But that wouldn’t be so bad for you, come to think of it.” Her smile is full of as much mischief as compassion.

Then I have an idea, only in part formed to change the subject. “Do you want me to aspect you?” I ask. She nods in answer. Aspecting, which is also called trance channeling or just channeling, is when you share space with a person from the spirit world. I move my ego/personality consciousness partly out of the way and Ailbhe fills in the rest of the space, so we’re both sharing the same body. I’m about 1/3 present, and she has the rest of the space. I stop trying to hide any thoughts, When you’re sharing a body with someone, neither you nor the person sharing your space can hide anything. This used to be somewhat alarming to me, but now I greatly value sharing such a profound level of honesty.

As Ailbhe goes about sending me feelings of acceptance to quell the growing emotions gripping me from the memories, she also draws our attention to the tour guide. We listen, I, fascinated, Ailbhe both quizzical and reflective, while the guide starts relaying one of the myriad legends of the fianna associated with Tara.

I convey my excitement to Ailbhe about this. “There are many who still remember you, see, there really are.” My comment is in part made in reference to continuing our conversation from the day before, over the surprising frequency with which “pagan Ireland” seems to be represented in tourist audiovisuals almost exclusively with the mention of Cúchulainn, and no one else.

“It’s one of those stories that is not accurate with events,” Ailbhe remarks in reply, “But she does a good job in the telling of it.”

Then a somber stillness steels over her, and I am flooded with an uncanny mixture of gratitude at what is remembered and grief for an era long passed, the recognition of so many inevitable changes since create an inexplicable kind of longing. “What is it Ailbhe,” I ask, concerned.

“Isn’t it strange,” Ailbhe says then, “That today among the tourists gathered at the seat of the ancient high king stand many of our fianna themselves, and of us I myself am looking out through your eyes, embodied in a way wholly unexpected; and then to hear of my own people, being discussed in passed tense. But we are still here. No one considers that we might be very much present now.”

I briefly imagine the possible look that would cross the tour guide’s face if she somehow gazed out toward the crowd and noticed that many of the ones she was speaking about were also gathered here, listening to her. I realize that in such a case she’d most likely be frightened, both by what she was seeing and by the confusion that would set in, having no culturally accepted language in which to articulate the experience so others would understand without judgment. I can tell that Ailbhe certainly knows all of this, and yet there is a part of her still wishing to be seen, not just for who she was, but for who she is. I keep her close to me. “I see you,” I tell her.

For a while we simply stand together silently. The guide has finished her story and goes on with a speech about something, but I am too out of the way to track it consistently. I am aware most of all of how the two of us are standing with the self-assured dignity and grace which Ailbhe has in abundance, and I am still learning to possess.

Then Ailbhe says quietly, “It’s hard for you not to be able to see it, isn’t it, Éilis? It’s not easy for me either, to be looking out of your eyes and not to be able to see all of Ireland expanding out from us.”

I agree, taken somewhat aback by the comment. Usually I think little about what I might be missing with my lack of eyesight, but in this place full of memories, and many visual memories now lost as I have no reference for them, I am feeling bereft. Suddenly I go from being grateful for Ailbhe’s words of comfort to feeling hugely inadequate. Here I am, trying to give Ailbhe the experience of once again being an embodied person at Tara, but I will never be able to give her the whole of the sense of the place she once had.

Ailbhe notices the shift in me immediately. “It’s all right,” she whispers, trying to console my troubled mind, “This experience is more than I ever imagined I would have again. It is more than enough, Éilis. Thank you, I am more than grateful to you.” She pauses, and puts a light around us. The light is made of unconditional acceptance, and slowly I become at peace again. Finally she says, “I should let you have a few more moments up here fully back in yourself before you and the group need to move on.”

She steps out of my space then, and with a radiant white light shining around me, I completely return to myself. I can still see Ailbhe next to me. People are now walking up to touch the Lia fáil, the stone of destiny. Our time to just stand quietly will be over shortly.

Suddenly, Ailbhe reaches out, and takes my hand. With the connection she conveys a picture. Two souls, having been sisters long ago in an ancient age, reunite once again on the hill of Tara to stand at the summit and look out at a country that was once their home but is no longer home to either of them now. No matter that the sisters now live in different worlds. No matter that one has been wandering through lifetimes in search of her origins while the other has spent her existence in the world beyond, representing an age. None of that has ever been enough to keep us apart. Once again, we stand in a place that has always held a deep significance to us, except that now the land beneath and around us has been transformed by the passage of almost two millennia, in a way barely recognizable. Hand in hand we both reclaim and lay to rest an era, safely holding what once was in memory, while restoring to who we are now what of our histories the land once claimed as its own. For one more moment we look into each other’s eyes, brown peering into blue. Then Ailbhe gently lets go of my hand and disappears.

When I finally get to touch the lia fáil, it oddly seems to pail in comparison to that more private experience Ailbhe and I shared. Somewhat to my immense relief, the stone doesn’t make any piercing cries. Thank goodness, I think to myself, half jokingly, that means less responsibility for me. But even while I walk away and start down the descent of the hill, I am struck by the gnawing feeling that I am already on my way to fulfilling a destiny of my own.

Hill of Tara Part 1, Ireland, 2015

I step off the large tour bus. Mom, very tired, stands to my left. In front of us the hill of Tara rises, and even closer than that, clumps of tourists, families and groups of friends, mill about. We are an odd blending of strangers and companions, all with stories of our own, dropped here from around the world to visit, for all our myriad of reasons, a part of our heritage.

It is a beautiful summer afternoon, the sun shines radiant but unobtrusively through the clear, blue sky, its rays dancing a compromise on the cool breeze, as if seeking, in midfall, to defer deferentially to already ensconced patches of shade.

A cacophony of conversation drifts up the hill over endless neatly mowed grass. Grass? At Tara? When did this happen? The question intrudes on my thoughts and I’m not sure who it’s from. All I know is that, when I was here before long ago, the place was mostly dirt, and grass in the form of neatly kept lawn was conspicuously absent.

To see the place once more, but without eyes, haunts me, taunts me with visions which will remain unconfirmed, cheating me out of an intimacy I once shared. I can walk but cannot trace the contours of the landscape with my eyes, and for a moment I am grief stricken, like someone who can behold but never touch the one she loves.

The metal gate would have been absent of course. so would the bus that dwarfed the distances I might have once traveled by foot. Would I recognize those footpaths now, or would they be permanently lost to me, covered over by time and transformation, deforestation, and fresh green grass? I have little time to ponder, for now the woman with the calm, high voice who will be our guide for the next hour issues us through the gate and we begin our ascent.

Part of me recognizes what I am doing as quite normal and routine, exactly the kind of sequence of events that occurs during a mass tour of an ancient site. And we had had no choice about the large tour group, either. Our trip to Tara is part of a larger tour of the Boinne Valley, including Newgrange, which we visited earlier. The neolithic stones are only accessible through booking a tour with the visitor’s center. What else might I have expected?

The answer comes unbidden to me, unannounced, almost a surprise. For we entered Tara without challenge or ordeal, no statements of pedigree, degree and right, status or reason for business. And I remembered, from somewhere deep within, how such a display of worthiness was required if a person wished to even remotely be considered for the welcoming. And here we are, without trial or travail. My surprise, I realize, is not at the details of the memory, but my unnerving feeling of culture shock.

And “Now watch your step,” warns our vigilant tour guide, in a tone of voice that conveys her desire to avoid a repeat of some prior mishap. “The grass is slippery and wet, and the ground is uneven.”

Of course it is, I think to myself. The first thing I notice, with a pang of sadness, is the absence of the great wall. The open grassland unsettles me, any trace of a protective embrace now long since eroded away. We walk past two stones, which our guide explains are all that remain of an ancient rite of kingship. It was said that these stones were placed a specific distance apart, and that a potential king would only be allowed onto further initiations if he could drive a chariot between the stones without touching them. I felt the two stones, the aspiring king would have had to be very skilled indeed to accomplish the challenge.

I am grateful when mom is too tired to walk with the rest of the group, and we fall behind. I need distance, and badly. Besides our feet upon the now grassy earth and the birds chattering in sporadic song, the occasional caught phrase from a fellow tourist up ahead, the wind whispering its opinion now and again in low, hushed tones – the place is silent, silent.

No one lives here. No horses whinny impatiently in a stable, no king’s servants hurry by with provisions, wash buckets, hay bundles, or cooking pots. No last minute commotion to repair a building. No children hollering and playing in the dirt. No pits for fires, no conclaves of brehons, no bards with their harps, no druids preparing the ceremonies of Samhain. No shouts from the now absent walls. No buildings in fact, except for a church, constructed in 1822.

It’s a very interesting church, but while I am appreciating its existence and contribution to the long history of this place, I am left grappling with the elusive transience of uncertainty forged through the passage of time. Time and its remnants seem to emanate from this place from every age, from the stone age to the present, clambering for their own share of loyalty, of recognition, of honor. In the midst of the iconic passage tombs with their transparent mystery, the allure of the Christian era crossing the minds of those from the middle ages to modernity, casting its shadows over the past, Tara from the second century CE seems to have fallen into obscurity. To the hand or the eye mapping the surface, the time I walked this world as Mairin is almost forgotten, or else shrouded in the misunderstandings and messiness of myth.

We walk on. My feet take to the landscape almost effortlessly. True to our guide’s word, the ground is quite uneven and slippery. Mom stumbles, and instantly I catch her fall, perfectly poised on the ridge of a dip in the landscape. Farther on she trips again. Again, I compensate without thinking, immediately placing us solidly on the furrowed plane of the hill. “Don’t worry, this is what sighted guide is for,” I joke, grinning at her, “So that I can ensure you don’t lose your balance.”

We laugh. “You’re doing pretty well,” she admits and I wonder, should I tell her that I am fairly convinced that I know my way around?

I decide against it. Mom is pretty tired after all and I feel she might need a break from conversation: she’s been describing landscapes and standing stones to me all day. Besides, I don’t know where my brothers are, and if either of them overhear, I’ll be hard pressed for a decent explanation. In fact, I’ve yet to figure out an adequate explanation that satisfies myself, though I can feel myself teasing out the story from my bones, as if patiently completing a one thousand piece puzzle.

Just before we crest the top of the hill, it is plain to me that I do in fact have some sort of instinctual memory of the place. Toward the top is a very steep portion, and forgetting mom’s fatigue, I bound up the steep incline like a dear in the dark, slowing down only because I am still holding onto mom’s arm, and I can’t as well drag her with me.

I want, so badly want, to run, to race up the rest of the hill, then race down again, several times, until I’ve exhausted myself. But I don’t have Allegro or my cane with me, and I can’t run with a cane anyway, doing so is the equivalent of sprinting with a big stick, and that has other potentially hazardous consequences (usually for other people.)

So I do the next best thing, what I have always done when I long to be able to move gracefully in a world that doesn’t allow that without vision: I take a moment and imagine, in vivid sensory detail, what it would be like to move fast on my own. Then I let go of the desire. I’ve done all I can with it.

Mounds within mounds. Age packed onto age. Standing atop it all at the summit, where everyone with the eyes for it are looking out over three fourths of the whole country, history sings to me from far beyond who I was, far before who I am now. As I stand, the energy of this place captivates me, courses through me, a raw reverberation of remembrances. I am centered in their radiance. As if a tree, rooted, I pull up a current of change that seems to seap out of the ground through the soles of my shoes, traveling like sap through a tree trunk, until I am not sure where the soul of the land ends and my spirit begins. That is when I remember.

Tara: What Might Have Been

There are memories, but they are few and far between. Scattered, broken, some fleeting pictures, some emotions which long ago imbedded themselves within an ancient segment of soul. It is June 14, 2015. Tomorrow we will go to Newgrange, then onto Tara. I’m exstatic about seeing the neolithic stones, but they have left no memorable imprint on me. Tara, on the other hand, with its alluring misted images dancing almost out of reach of conscious recognition, calls me, beckons me from far away with reasons only landscapes know. The following is a story I have woven from threadbare memories, the images and emotions are genuine, but I’ve made up the dialogue and filled in the gaps with guesswork. It is a mere reconstructed approximation of what might have been, 1800 years ago.

***

“Stay where you are!” The booming bellow from the top of the wall startles me for a moment, and I shift into a watchful wariness almost instantly, despite the fact that I’ve known that entrance into Tara would be difficult at best. I freeze.

The unforgiving winds of Samhain howl over the hill, as if it were an insignificant obstacle in the surrounding landscape. The gusts of chill drive a drizzling mist before them, a watery haze too dense to be fog, more of a suspended mass of swirling spray than a genuine rain. Far away, a low moan moves slowly through trees rooted tightly together at the edge of the forest, with its brooding mysteries obscured in darkness.

Before me, the stone wall looms, cast hard and unforgiving in the cold, inertly rising from the loam three persons high, at least five paces thick. Behind it, a ditch runs the perimeter of the hill fort, and though it is hard to make them out, several men besides the one now speaking stand sentry near and at the large imposing gates.

It bothers me that I am more easily scared than my sister. I should have considered I might need to defend myself with more than words. If it comes to that, my roan staff seems hardly appropriate, and besides, my ability to fight is less than rudimentary.

“State your intent. Why come you to Tara?” The voice comes again, hollering to be heard above the din of this dreary day.

“I serve as Bandraoi to Fionn and the people of Dun Alúine. Ailbhe rigbanfhénnid of the fourth nine, is my sister. I come at her suggestion, and the request of the high king who has summoned here the protectors of his people.”

As I speak, I stare bewildered at my challenger, whose features have suddenly coalesced out of the fog. On the ground, he would stand two hands taller than myself. I cannot see his long, golden braided hair beneath the furs pulled up to shield him from the winds. The presence of the fur cloak is the only sign he does not find me cause for concern, and he shouldn’t, of course. I recognize him instantly as one of my sister’s nine, in fact we’d just been in conversation four hours earlier. But they had all gone in before me, and I, with less standing of my own, found myself outside with the other druids and freemen, waiting my turn to pass through. I know I cannot be welcomed as a friend, even though it is oddly painful to be addressed like a stranger by a member of my adopted household. But, the high king demands formality, and to him I am as much a stranger as any other. I shiver, telling myself that this is definitely because of the cold, rather than the thought of the high king. Once again, I fail at self-deception miserably.

Despite himself, the young fénnid lets a glimmer of recognition spark in his otherwise harsh unyielding eyes. I smile up at him, then, but he has turned to shout something inaudible to an unseen space behind him. Shortly after that, I am allowed inside.

I climb the rugged dips and crannies of the hill, a flurry of activity all about me. There are people standing in groups talking excitedly, mothers comforting crying children, the hurried steps of those rushing by to seek shelter in one of the four halls surrounding the main hall of the high king. Horses stamp hooves and whinny, men and women prepare provisions for tomorrow’s feast. Commotion reigns. The expectant energy of the place palpably buzzes just below what is evident with my five senses. Overwhelmed and in awe, I stop for a while to just take it all in, the sights and the sounds, the smells—and try to imagine approaching this scene tired, hungry, and cold, a girl of merely nine years. How had my sister ever made it passed the wall? But whatever the fire in her that allowed her to journey all that way, I know it is undoubtedly that same internal flame that drives her to excellence so that she now leads a fian of her own.

My sister and I have always adored each other, and the day she slipped away in the dark to leave behind an unwanted destiny and boldly go forth to seek another was one of the most devastating days of my life. I was too young to understand, and to my mind she had simply decided she could live without me. Later I would come to understand that I had very little to do with her decision. When I decided that I, too, did not wish to return to my clan of birth, it was simply a matter of logistics to locate my sister, and apply to be the bandraoi for her community instead. For that brief time we spent together as children, she’d become more family to me than anyone else ever had.

And yet, standing on the hill of Tara, it steels on me again: that gnawing fear that I will only ever exist in the shadow of my sister, that I might never be known by my own deeds, but be tolerated in places such as this out of a duty to hospitality by proxy.

I push these uncharitable thoughts away. I know that when I am lying out in the forest near a stream, breathing in the sky, such petty thoughts don’t matter. They vanish like the smoke they are and leave only truth. I cannot let myself take such things seriously now.

Much later, when I sit in the king’s great hall with the other druids, I still can’t believe I am here. What is more, to my astonishment I find myself temporarily sitting next to Íonnach Mór, the Great Ionian himself, and the high king’s Ollamh.

“Is this your first time in the hall of Tara?” he asks, after we exchange the usual introductions. A look of warmth flickers across his face. His question unnerves me. Do I look that apparently new to kingly feasting halls? Do I seem lost? Have I acted unfavorably? I gather myself to appear far more certain and sure than I feel.

“Yes, my first,” I struggle to find a voice now suddenly shy in front of this man whom I had held in such high esteem from a distance, looking me in the eye. “I’ve been out of training for only a year,” I add, for justification, in case I’m in need of one.

“There is always a first time,” he replies without judgment, to my relief. “Who from among those you have taken up with has sponsored your being here, or have you come representing yourself?”

Still worried about betraying my ignorance by saying something wrong, I gesture toward Fionn, who, with about two thirds of the fianna, has taken up a position along one of the walls, armed and ready to defend the gathering if needed. The rest are out around the grounds.

The Ollamh’s eyes widen in surprise, then he recovers: “Very good!” He exclaims approvingly, “That is no small accomplishment, and in only a year’s time. You have certainly earned your place.”

“Thank you.” I manage, unable to find more words. There are too many emotions crowding out thoughts, and I am too unprepared for this to quiet them into stillness.

“I am glad to have met you, Mairin of Almu,” the Ollamh replies, “I hope my filid will make you most welcome. Then he stands. I am shocked at how tall he is. He rivals some of the tallest men of the fianna in height, towering above me by a head and shoulders, and then some. In fact, at least to me, he is quite imposing, all around. His long flowing black curls simply add to his striking appearance. For a moment, his piercing hazel eyes hold mine in a solemn, yet vibrant gaze.

“It is a great honor, Ollamh,” I answer sincerely, also standing.

As I take my seat again, Íonnach Mór confidently makes his way toward the center of the room. The hall is quieting down, soon we will be brought to order.

Inside, I am beaming,. Feeling more accepted and right in this place, I finally begin to relax and wonder what will happen next.

Falling Stars

Stars fall
And fall
I could do nothing
But watch stars fall

Brilliant sparks of soaring light
Lost in a senseless sea of sorrow
Tears cried too late
Then too soon dried

There was no time
To gather the fractured shards of love
Hold them close
Keen their crossing

Run, the shadows
Will snuff out in an inky smoke
The tiny incandescent suns
Smoldering in your harried, haunted eyes

Does the earth over your heads lie cold
Is it not yet satiated
With enough red rain
No time, I slip

Over the black pools
Lying in wait
Like withered, sunken eyes
Acrid reservoirs of unwept tears

Don’t fall…
But silently, filling
Hollows with the horrors of memory
A steady rain

Perhaps tomorrow
The warm sunshine
And the call of the curlew
Will pull me back

From the endless depths
Of yesterday’s neglected grief
But at last, today I weep
And weep for fallen stars

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.

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.”