December 22, 2013
It is now Tuesday, and I have yet to hear from Caoilte or Oisín about the letter I sent them. I wonder whether this has been the best way to communicate. I do remember thinking, however, that if anyone from the otherworld would read a letter on a computer screen, Caoilte would.
Now however, my anxiety over whether or not anyone will understand is growing rapidly. Are they angry? Have I failed my commitment to do my best in all things and follow through on what I say? This last thought threatens to send me into despair. After all, I said that my place was theirs also, and now I am taking it back. I remind myself that I am changing my mind for good, perhaps even legitimate reasons, but I cannot convince myself that those in the otherworld will find such reasons sufficient. I am hoping I have not inadvertently created a conflict. More than that, however, I take the vow I have made to live by the fianna’s values extremely seriously and would rather not break it in only four weeks’ time because I hadn’t the foresight to realize just what I could and could not commit to.
I get to my routine Tuesday appointment, conveniently within walking distance from home, a good fifteen minutes early. Happy with myself on this count, I sit down on the plush couch in the waiting room and close my eyes. I’m going to use this time to think.
Thinking yields a plan of action that, I admit, feels outlandish to me. Where did this idea come from? It is this: go talk to the salmon of knowledge and ask after how Oisín and Caoilte and the rest of the fianna feel about my decision.
In my mind, I recall the story in which Fionn, comes by the wisdom of the salmon. The salmon, Finton, acquires the wisdom of the ages from eating the nuts of the nine hazel trees which I have only learned very recently are said to have stood around Nechtan’s Well at the mouth of the river Boyne. The druid Finegas gives young Fionn the task of cooking up the salmon as well as warns him not to eat any of it in the process. However, while cooking it, Fionn attempts to squelch a blister on the salmon’s skin. In doing so, he burns his thumb, which he instinctively places in his mouth. Upon hearing this, Finegas instructs Fionn to eat the salmon, as its knowledge is obviously meant for him to have.
Closing my eyes, I am surprised at how easy it is to come by a place I should know little about. The grove of the hazel trees is so vivid to me, that I can’t imagine I’ve never been here before. But I can’t fathom how or when this could have happened. It is located near a very steep hill, which by my rough estimation is 20-30 degrees in slope. I must walk up the hill and down the other side to get there properly, avoiding lots of loose rocks and tree roots along the way. The pool is surrounded by many slopes leading down to it, in fact, and lies slightly below the grove which lines the slow stream running straight through the middle of the trees.
As I walk into the grove, I suddenly remember things that seem rather silly to find important at the moment. Facts such as that there are better places to wash, it isn’t safe to navigate the stream or even some of the river it turns into further on with a boat or coracle, and that the willow trees nearby can’t properly burn in a fire. Since I am not interested in making a fire, washing in the stream, or boating, I wonder briefly where these seemingly random thoughts have come from, and why. I decide I definitely have to have come here before even if I find it baffling.
It’s super cold and windy here today. Due to the time zone difference, my venture at 11:15 A.M. pacific standard time puts me in the grove at about 7:15 in the evening. The water feels like it is under sixty degrees when I test it, and after leaving my hands in it for over a minute, they turn numb. Around me the leaves rustle in the wind, while the stream gurgles around small boulders and dances over pebbles. I sit on an ancient flat rock with my hands in the water, hoping the salmon of knowledge will appear sooner than later.
After five or so minutes, a relatively short time, I note to myself, I see the salmon in the water and catch it immediately. To be fair, I think it is easy for me to get hold of the salmon only because, a few months before hand, I have a dream in which I catch the salmon of knowledge in my hands. Since allowed this in the dream, it seems that the salmon is quite happy to hang out again with me now. Holding the salmon gently under the water, I realize with relief that I don’t actually have to enact cooking it or sucking my thumb. This is quite fortunate for the both of us, I have to say, the exemption from thumb-sucking particularly appreciated on my end of things. Just touching it is sufficient. Unsure of whether or not sending pictures to the salmon in my head is an effective way to communicate, I give it a try anyway and ask my question.
Next, I let the salmon go, after thanking it for its help in the matter. Then, I wait. Not for long, it turns out. But I have to say, the next few minutes pass with interminable slowness. I have finally come home. The last thing I would ever want to do is find myself rejected after such a long time yearning after and searching for those in the otherworld with whom I truly belong. I am sincerely worried, convinced that I can’t trust myself to ever do the right thing, and it is a bit existentially terrifying to not know where I stand. These are the feelings I have in any similar situation in this world, but somehow multiplied exponentially in this situation where I tell myself that I might lose everything– an everything the likes of which in this world I have never known. Yet, as these things so often go, I am soon to have a lesson in just what real belonging looks like, and it is, for the most part and with some crucial exceptions, the truth against anything my past experience urges me to believe.
Presently, the salmon returns, with an answer in the form of a picture. of course everyone understands why I’ve had to close the portals to the otherworld, and have not been upset with me in the slightest. I can let go of my concerns. Real belonging is unconditional. It is my own sense of separateness and fear that has prevented me from knowing this before. Succumbing to the fear of rejection, I have inadvertently spun an illusion of the very isolation I dread around me, until I have convinced myself that “real” belonging is conditional and capricious, any actual evidence otherwise notwithstanding.
Secondly, they have been waiting for me to recognize the value of my own needs and commitment to myself, and change my mind. They’ve known for a while it hasn’t been working out for me, but I needed to come to this realization on my own, and they are surprised by how long it has taken me to concede. I, however, am not surprised. Conceding, it seems, is only something I do once it becomes absolutely necessary. It has now become necessary. However, at any moment beforehand, I was determined to stand my ground indefinitely. Oh well: I know myself well enough to recognize I can be recalcitrant, even to my own detriment. “Perhaps such a steadfast commitment to self-defeating stubbornness is no longer needed?” is the suggestion offered kindly in the picture. I find the idea a bit strange, against my instincts really, but because it is part of the picture, I start to take it seriously, a little at a time.
Later that day I get a very vivid vision. I am told that if I go to the Aquatic Park, to a particular tree near a picnic table I’ve found last week, I will find a gift from Oisín to thank me for the hospitality I’ve shown the fianna. I have hosted so many of his family and friends that he wishes to give me a tangible token of their gratitude. It is clear from the picture he sends me that he doubts I’ll consistently remember the bit about just how understanding everyone has been and still is, unless there is something in this world to remind me. I have to admit he is probably right about that. Moved by such unexpected reciprocated generosity and full of curiosity at what Oisín has in mind, I decide that tomorrow, as soon as I can get out, I’m going to head off and investigate. I’ve now forgotten all about doubt and worry which have been replaced by the sheer excitement of participating in this unfolding mystery that spans two worlds. So, in my return picture I say, “Wow, that’s incredibly thoughtful of you. Oh, and if there are more adventures to go send me on, I’m up for it.”