Tag Archives: life lessons

I Return As Dr. Éilis!

On Friday, I defended my dissertation, passed without the need for any revisions, and absolutely stunned out my committee! Each of them made a point to tell me how much they loved my presentation, and how well I did in answering their questions. I rocked it, above and beyond what I ever imagined. As Martha Beck says, Woohoo!!!

It’s been a long, long road, everyone. Weeks ago, I wondered whether, after I gained my freedom–err, I mean graduated– I’d be totally ecstatic and bouncing off walls, full of so much joy I wouldn’t know what to do with myself: maybe I’d have so much energy that I’d run until I’d get exhausted: which would only take a minute. I’m serious. Writing a dissertation takes up a lot of hours, and involves the “arduous” task of sitting still…with the exception of your hands of course, which are constantly typing. Moving becomes an unfamiliar pastime.

As it happens, I am immeasurably happy, and jubilant, and elated: and bone tired. Contentedly tired, but still very weary. They don’t tell you this when you get the acceptance letter, but graduate school is a long drawn out procedure with a recovery period. I recommend warning any graduate-school-enthusiast children you may have about this phenomenon, (but to be fair, no amount of warning ever dissuaded me from attending.)

For me, graduate school lasted ten enduring years. Years spent not knowing who I was, years where I faced a lot of discrimination, pain, ostracism and social invisibility, years in which I slowly but steadily moved through and eventually transformed my anger, grief, and feelings of worthlessness. Somewhere inside me was the girl who I’d forgotten in the fog, lost under harsh layers of living, but who was still breathing, silently dreaming.

I know she was there, because I have found her. I sang to her bones to rise, to walk into her own belonging. I traveled the road of shadows for her, called her name, gathered the shattered mirror pieces and pieced them whole once I heard and knew and felt throughout all I ever was that I was not broken. I learned to love those jagged pieces, a patchwork puzzle of the past. And despite all I had been through in the place to which I returned, last week when I returned, I remained wholeheartedly myself. I could have never achieved this on my own, of course, but I did have to decide to keep going, each step of the way. That is to me a testament to how far I have come.

Always the question arises, after arriving, no longer questing, for a threshold: as I look toward my whole life ahead of me, what amidst all that should be left behind is worth carrying forward? re-membering is important, relearning resilience, rebuilding a self by the soft light of a core spark that never dies, retrieving compassion from where it had retreated, backed into a corner of regret and shame and silence about much that had never been true. Freedom, walking out of the Anonymous Desert for the last time, and shutting a door of an era behind me was a right of passage in itself. But I know well that I could have never lept the crossing had I never learned to tear down walls, break through bars, and hold my own rather than hold on for dear life. (I have often done both kinds of holding, sometimes simultaneously.)

A week before my defense, I sat down and did some re-membering. I wrote from myself to myself, which I had never done before. I will share a bit of the growing with you, as I think I’ve learned things which we are all in the process of re-membering, and because I finally found the words for it.

***

Power is found within, springs forth from love and compassion for you, to hold your own sacred space within you, and claim your birthright of worth and belonging. You can stay centered in your own truth, your own power. You are the author of your life and the divine guardian of yourself.

Stop holding your breath against change. Be discerning and open. Let go. Let go of expectations. you belong to yourself and always have. This past does not define you. It will not ruin you. You will return. Keep your energy centered, your mind focused. Have great love and compassion for you. Know you are stronger than you know or believe. The grey will fall at your light. Be present, be alive and do not try to hide your eyes. Please return without any sense of small. Be the unbridled joyfulness of you. Your power, your truth, your strength, your trust, is all of and for yourself. I love you. You are already wild.

***

The journey that has gotten me here far surpasses the feat of freeing myself from a situation I never should have stayed in. If that lived experience was the only way to get me to where I am now, I am grateful for every moment of it, and that’s the truth. And truthfully, I am also overjoyed to finally be moving on, to embrace what is next in this wonderfully wild world. Let’s do this thing!

Rescued _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 14

December 28, 2013

This morning I wake up in a panic. As fast as I can muster, I scramble out of bed and, despite all logic, turn on some lights. Whether or not this will do any good, it makes me feel better. Isn’t it strange that a blind person still feels better with the lights on?

I’ve awoken from a dream which seems terrifyingly too real. In my dream, I am in bed slowly waking up to a new day. Suddenly a huge black dog jumps on top of me, pinning me down. It is bigger than Allegro, who is 75 lbs, but not substantially so. It is perhaps 100, 110 lbs. I admit to not wanting to look at it much though, so can’t say more about it. Instead, I turn my head toward the right side of the bed and start screaming for Allegro to help me get the dog off me. Allegro is wagging his tail and wanting pets, but seems unphased by the fact that there is a nasty canine growling and bearing its teeth preventing me from getting out of bed. Then I wake up.

By the middle of the day, I’ve put this incident safely out of my mind. I make dinner and then get comfortable to listen to a good book. I have no obligations for work or school not just because this is December and still winter break but also because I’m on medical leave, so I’ve been happily doing as the spirit moves.

My dad has given me a fascinating book for Christmas. It is Cathie McGowen’s novel, The Expected One, about a modern-day descendent of Mary Magdalene. Now, even though Mary Magdalene is from the Christian tradition, she is a feisty, strong, compassionate, fascinating woman particularly from McGowen’s perspective. Incidentally, McGowen portrays Jesus himself, who in the novel is Mary’s husband, as being a human being I might actually want to meet. Besides, it is obvious that a lot of historical research went into the making of this book, along with excellent descriptions of remote villages in France, and modern Jerusalem, and I adore historical fiction. So it is after midnight, and I am contentedly listening to yet another chapter on CD.

Suddenly, a dog appears at my front door, growling menacingly and glaring at me. It looks identical to the dream dog. However, I am *not* dreaming now! I’m even more terrified than I was this morning. I try not to look directly at it. I can almost hear its low-throated snarls, and am too petrified to move.

How on earth did it get in here, I wonder. And then it hits me: I have closed my portals to the otherworld, but unfortunately not before this beast got into my apartment to terrorize me. What kind of dog is it? Who sent it here? What am I going to do?

As my mind races, a picture flashes before my eyes of a scene in the novel The Last Miracle At Little No Horse. In the scene, a black dog personifying the devil leaps onto the main character while she is sleeping and won’t let her move. This devil stuff is one reason I left Christianity. I couldn’t believe in a religion that seemed to glorify suffering with its image of a crucified god while creating a nonhuman entity upon whom to lay the blame of all the evils of human nature. I seriously hope this dog is not the devil. Probably not.

I wonder if this might be Cú Chulainn’s dog totem animal instead? He is, according to my otherworld friends, quite the narcissist as well as their personal rival and they’ve made sure I haven’t run into him. Even so, I doubt even Cú Chulainn or his totem animal would be this vicious for no apparent reason.

I admit defeat at the “who?” question and quickly return to the more pressing need for action. All this speculation isn’t helping the situation whatsoever. The dog is looking more and more malevolent, and if I am honest with myself, banishing this dog is far beyond my capabilities. I start wondering whether I ought to slip out the back sliding glass door and … what exactly… spend the night outside? It’s cold and it’s now around one in the morning.

At this moment I sense some sort of activity occurring to the right of where I’m sitting. I haven’t been paying attention to that part of the living room, as all my focus has been on the snarling dog at my front door. With the exhaustion of having to suddenly remain seriously vigilant, I reluctantly turn my eyes briefly from the dog, hoping it won’t take this opportunity to rush at me. I feel paralyzed with fear, but fortunately my head actually obeys my command to move.

My head turns, and suddenly I am looking up, straight into Oisín’s greenish-blue eyes. I am profoundly relieved to see him here. He’s in fact standing right next to me, his facial expression impossible to read. There are two other féinnidi standing behind him, but it’s too difficult from my vantage point to see them clearly enough to possibly identify who they are. Identifying them is not immediately important, anyway. I’m thinking, by the gods this situation is much, much worse than I thought. Again I wonder how this could have happened.

Now that they are here, however, my fear has significantly, though not completely, subsided. Oisín is sending me a picture indicating that I need to help them by keeping an eye on the dog while they go about banishing it. (I now think the reason has to do with the fact that they could then make certain that any energetic links formed between me and the dog could vanish along with the creature. At the time however, I just do what I am asked, regardless of how much I’d rather look anywhere else.)

The dog is still there, fierce and terrible, a defiant look in its eyes, as if it were challenging us to go ahead with the impossible. Oisín is no longer in my line of sight, and I’m in panic mode for a second until he puts a reassuring hand on my shoulder. I am so grateful we have more than one way to stay connected, and now, I feel safe.

As I watch, a radiant glow streams past my peripheral vision. I blink. I am definitely looking at some kind of object that looks sword-shaped, but which is entirely made of light. I presume that everyone now has a light sword. I now have two thoughts crowding out any fear of the dog from hanging about in my head. I think, this is the first time I’ve ever seen any of the fianna use swords, rather than simply wear them so they can be easily identified. Secondly, I muse, light sabers may in fact have a very real origin within someone’s experience with the world beyond this one. Star Trek could very well be divinely inspired.

Now Oisín is pointing the sword at the dog. A bright band of white light is rapidly streaming from the tip of the sword, soaring in a wide arc over the twenty feet between the living room sofa and the front door. This light, I realize, has very long range. It is one continuous, concentrated, brilliant beam that traverses the room in less than seconds while never breaking apart. It is almost like a Lazer, but within whatever spectrum of light is visible to me.

Oisín is aiming the light far above the dog’s head which perplexes me, but I’ve come to trust his reasons for doing things. (It is only later that I recall that in fact dogs physically have genuine trouble seeing overhead objects. This is why a guide dog can run a blind person into a tree branch which is high enough to smack the person in the head but also too high for the dog to see. Sadly I’ve had personal experience.)

As I watch, the light beam is abruptly changing direction in mid air, shining rapidly down onto the dog’s head. The dog has not expected this, obviously. The light is streaming onto the dog’s head, and the fur on its head starts to pulse with an evanescent glow. Then the light bursts apart, shattering into millions of showering sparks. Wherever the rain of sparks fall, exploding like myriads of tiny prismed multifaceted intangible crystals, nothing remains. With three on one like this the dog doesn’t even have time to growl. It vanishes almost instantly, and not a trace of it remains.

I think my mouth is hanging open slightly. I am infinitely grateful and also full of awe and a great curiosity as to the physics of this particular kind of light. I am, I admit shamelessly, a physics groupie. I taught myself physics in high school when the teachers weren’t sure how to teach someone who is blind, and then read many physics books for lay people for fun, and passed a course at Stanford in special relativity and conceptual quantum mechanics with one of the highest scores. I know this is no manifest light. Upon hitting an object, many colors, that is wavelengths, contained within the wave of a single white light beam will get absorbed by the atoms in that object, and some colors will be reflected. You see an object as green, for instance, because, in this object, green is the only wavelength, color, of light that the atoms in the object haven’t absorbed. Black objects and black dogs are their color because they don’t have a color to reflect. That is, in a black object or entity every wavelength in a light beam gets absorbed and “stays” in the entity. This is why color appears to be absent.

Spiritually, I have come to learn, humans are like most manifest objects in this respect. That is, when you hear someone tell you that your shadow side, that part of you that is suppressed and disowned, must be brought out and integrated for you to grow, there is a deep truth of physics behind the why of it. Perhaps such a task is less frightening if you know that the shadow is dark because it has absorbed all the colors of the light within you that you fail to or refuse to draw out and express.

With most things and all people, including otherworld people, light is always in the darkness, waiting to shine. Not so for whatever creature the dog actually had been. Whatever its composition was, it was made of no ordinary darkness, either. A dark object always has light within it, stored as energy in its molecules. The darkness in the dog, however, seems to be a kind that abhors the light, and shrinks from the opposite of itself. It seems to be such that it has no capacity to absorb color, but is in the purest, most sinister sense of the word, a void. Now it is the nothing at the heart of its essence, and perhaps not now even that.

I shiver slightly at these thoughts, glad for the comfort of Oisín’s hand, still resting on my shoulder, and the presence of the others. I am so very lucky, I think, to have such wonderful friends, who are willing to walk their journey with me and protect me, even though most likely I am the one who let the dog in by keeping that portal open in my living room for so long. Live and learn, I suppose. I sincerely thank all three of them for rescuing me. Before leaving, Oisín wraps me in still, quiet, golden light, so I’ll feel safe enough to actually get some sleep.

The next day, I invite a manifest friend over and together we sage the apartment thoroughly, walking the perimeter counterclockwise three times. Then with my Tibetan singing bowl, I reclaim my space as mine. I hope now I have properly banished everything and everyone unwelcome. I set the intention that this space is for me, my family, and my friends, in this world and the next, and only for us.

Extraordinary House Guests _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 6

It was after five when I came home. Like usual, I fed the dog, put on a pot to boil water for dinner, and checked my email all without turning on a single light switch. (Its a great way to conserve energy for anyone interested– at least I think so.) I put on the Clannad Pandora station and sat down for a quiet dinner alone. Allegro had just come from snoring on his fleecy mat to wander pensively into the living room. I turned my head. And that was when I realized I was not alone after all.

I blinked. Two otherworld people were sitting on my couch, slightly in awe of the plush furniture, pretending they were not staring. I noticed anyway. I can never feign indifference on them, but fortunately it works in the other direction as well. To this day I do not know their names. My dinner was on the table, so I returned to a decisively manifest world activity which I had already realized I would have to enjoy while I could. Otherworld people can’t eat, and sometimes they glance longingly at whatever I’m happily consuming, unable to relive the experience themselves.

After dinner I ran around the living room with Allegro, throwing his hedgehog for him to fetch. His nails clacked and skidded along the hard flooring as he repeatedly failed to get traction. Fur flying, tail wagging, he ran around and around in a seemingly tireless frenzy and I mused that perhaps he was in the mood to see who would tire first, and that he bet it would be me. Fifteen minutes into it, however, he suddenly stopped moving so quickly. By this point, I was letting the loud music drown out the increasing amount of noise being made by all.

Besides the hedgehog squeaker “with its original grunter sound” per the apt description from the manufacturers, nails clicking, and the occasional bark, I was taking full advantage of my opportunity to run like a maimed leap frog and holler and yell for purely legitimate and nondestructive reasons. I mean, if I wanted to change careers and do something excellent for the blind, I’d devise an accessible adapted version of caber tossing or Hurley. The psychology of the human need to be inexplicably and spontaneously loud is poorly underdeveloped. (The interplay of Hurley and the human urge to holler and throw things in a perfectly acceptable manner would be a great thesis topic. It would even lend itself to a horribly punny title such as “The Interplay of Personality and Play: The Role of Hollering Loudly in Both Hurley and the Expression of Human Nature,” but I digress.)

So, Allegro slowed down, and then stopped chasing the hedgehog altogether. I, however, only partially paid attention to him and so continued to run… right into an otherworld person. The only plus side to this kind of collision is that it doesn’t hurt anyone involved. It still requires a great deal of awkward extrication and apologies especially as it’s possible to partially run through, rather than hit and bounce off of, a being made of energy: and I still felt the need to not let on about just how startled I was while offering muttered sheepish explanations as to why on earth I was leaping around like an idiot and loudly stating incoherent noises like “eishtay!” which means nothing at all (Allegro doesn’t care if it makes sense, right?) This otherworld person was already vanishing when I finally got to look at him, and I can’t blame him for that. I only got to see his shadow, and nothing more.

When I made it into the kitchen to retrieve the hedgehog, I saw yet another otherworld person. His presence so close to the hedgehog explained why Allegro hadn’t gone to fetch it. I added this to my list of reasons why my guide dog is wiser than I am.

I managed to avoid a collision and was ready with a bit more politeness this time. “Hello,” I said, “Nice to meet you.” Then I thought for a moment about what, exactly, might be needed regarding otherworld hospitality. Was this person going to stay here, or not? Showing him around, giving him a cup of water, asking him to sit, getting some blankets and fixing a meal if he had traveled a long way and was hungry… these are things that otherworld people simply do not need. Finally I asked the only polite question I could think of, “Do you like this style of music? Is it too loud? I can turn it down if you want.” At least he could hear and enjoy the music, I thought.

The person, whose name I still don’t know, would have laughed with me if he could. He sent me a picture which indicated, “I spent my whole life listening to Celtic music. Of course I like it. You should play it as loud as you want to, it doesn’t bother me either way.”

Satisfied that I had made this person as comfortable as possible, I tried asking his name, but like most people I would meet he had either forgotten his name or tried sending it to me spelled out in Irish which failed miserably. So I shrugged apologetically and indicated that I needed to clean up the kitchen and start winding down for the night. He stuck around, but visibly vanished so that I no longer saw him. Otherworld people have that ability, I’d come to understand. It takes quite a bit of energy for me, and them, to project and see images and so often they are in their more natural invisible state, though still present.

When I turned off the music and was preparing for bed, I had yet another quandary to consider. There were at least four people hanging around my place. I couldn’t tell if they were the same as before, or another group of four passing through. Although I was sure I’d see a few women, it was statistically more likely I’d see men instead, and so far that was the case. I had realized, slowly, somewhere in the midst of the evening, that I was seeing fianna members who were passing through on their way to wherever they were headed, which I told Caoilte would be fine with me. However, there was a person hanging out in my room, and I needed to change into some pajamas. Ah, details and the minutia of everyday living.

“Um, hey,” I asked wondering when I’d stop feeling awkward, “This is my room and I need it to myself. Could you go hang out in the living room over there instead?” I pointed right, out the door, mulling over whether I had insulted his intelligence by pointing or whether I ought to assume that a person who lived in Ireland 1800 years ago wouldn’t know English, or whether it mattered in the slightest. I’d forgotten he wasn’t embodied and voiced the request aloud.

He was saying in sign, “That’s fine, I understand,” and disappeared. I sighed with relief.

But now, I wondered, should I close the door? If I’d had five or so physically embodied people over, I would have certainly closed the door as well as kindly kicked them out of my room. But this was my space, and I lived here alone… did I really? I thought so, two days ago. I thought about how I had to keep the bathroom door open for years, even when I was occupying it, because whenever I closed the door my cat would meow with ear-piercing angst and scratch off paint on the wood with her perfectly positioned predator’s claws. Darn it all if I was going to start closing the door and acting like I had roommates when I’d chosen to live by myself for a reason, and anyway these weren’t the sort of roommates anyone else would notice. It was around this time that I flashed on the memory that, while they were alive, the fianna were quite used to living with and around large numbers of people. Privacy, especially in the individually-boxed-and-packaged way we’re used to experiencing it now, was a luxury they may have never known. They’d already know how to meticulously respect people’s boundaries and occupy themselves elsewhere if anyone needed time alone.

First and foremost, I decided that as a flesh and blood person of this century, I had a right to have priority over what boundaries we’d set. Unlike the others, I was decidedly not used to living with cohorts of five people, especially if their members were constantly changing, and even if they were consciously showing up in groups that were much smaller than the nine to twelve who usually stayed together. I was, admittedly, very grateful for their thoughtfulness on that point. Second, I’d take the opportunity to see how my house companions handled the situation. As a rule I don’t tend to trust people simply on the basis of affiliation, though with Oisín and Caoilte as their friends I already trusted them more than most. Even so, it was imperative to me to be sure they would respect the boundaries I had. As it happened, I very peacefully spent the night without any visitors venturing into my room, though there were a few more groups who came through the other room unseen during the night. They didn’t bother me.

The next day was quite similar to the first as far as sharing it with my otherworld companions was concerned. To be honest, after a week or so, I lost count of how many people I saw and I stopped feeling like I had to somehow entertain them all. But, on day 2, I was still constantly looking around to see if anyone else had arrived. Whenever I came home from an appointment or from an outing with my seed group, I opened my front door more slowly than usual to make sure it wouldn’t hit anyone and peered around to see whether or not the place was empty.

That night, after bringing home my take out order of fish and chips, an otherworld person sat across from me at the table. He was one of the ones who couldn’t help staring wistfully at my meal. I felt bad that he wouldn’t be able to eat it, and that I couldn’t offer to share it. I attempted to let him in on how it tasted by sending a picture of what it tasted like. Just in case you want to try it, it’s nearly impossible to turn taste into a visual image, but especially when you can’t see.

I’d changed up the music on Pandora and was now listening to country (don’t hate me.) I hadn’t listened to country music in a long time, and it was making me want to get up and dance. I hadn’t moved much that day, and I often feel like a day without much movement is a day in which I’m slowly dying.

My dinner guest had vanished, and I looked around self-consciously at the room for signs of life. Other than Allegro’s ever-present, easy-going, joyful spirit that always fills my surroundings, I was surprised to see no one. I ran over to the sliding glass door and closed the blinds. Now, if I look like a fool trying to run, I look like an even greater fool trying to dance. I either bob around aimlessly (but in rhythm!) or move so fast against the beat that I’d fall over if I stopped unexpectedly. I wasn’t sure whether I could control whether an otherworld person saw me dance, but I wasn’t about to take the risk of some actual world person having a glimpse at me through the window. I wondered briefly what people who lived in the second century would think about country music. Should I only play music they like while they are here? How long would they be here? How many are they anyway? Would I ever meet a woman among them? These were the questions that flitted through my mind as I stood in front of the stereo, unsure how to proceed, once again a bit overwhelmed and baffled by all I was experiencing.

Then, I deliberately forgot about otherworld goings-on altogether, and threw myself into enjoying the moment, in this time, in this world. I reveled in still being able to take up space in the most uncoordinated of fashions, able to mercilessly sing along (loudly) with the songs whose words I knew, able to stomp and clap my hands and turn my head and grab a very excited Allegro’s two front paws and whirl around with my surprised canine dance partner. Grateful that I was still able to laugh at myself and listen to the simplistic lyrical babble about love and staying out too late and blue jeans and motorbikes and teenagers sneaking out together, and homes that families owned for generations, and hot sticky summer afternoons, and katydids, and honeysuckles, and learning what it takes to grow up, and the sorrow of having to say goodbye, and the exquisite unconditional outpouring of joy on holding your newborn child for the first time. In a nut shell, what it is to be and live human.

We all have our place and time in the world, but this is the time and the world that is mine. I danced, my hands forming the meanings of the words, unconsciously weaving the words of energy and motion into the descriptions of the here and now. If others danced with me, I never knew, but by the end of it I would have welcomed them to join in in whatever their way might be.

Wide Awake _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 2

(Sometimes:) Is fearr rith maith ná drochsheasamh.  A good run is better than a bad stand. – Irish Proverb

 

When Aoife returned from school to the coast where she grew up, she decided to reconnect as much as possible with a source of spiritual guidance.  The barren and lonely desert, with its moaning winds and haunting separatism, favored only those living things who could bottle up and hide away anything valuable to them, whether that be life sustaining water, little green shoots, or happiness and tears.  Before graduate school, Aoife had decided to follow the spirituality of her ancestors and joined a modern group of druids.  She had begun to study as a bard for only a few months when her parents died, and anything that she might have loved or enjoyed seemed to languish then.

                Now that she was healing from what she had been through, she no longer needed the thorns and spines and thick hard shell that protected her so well in the desert.   She felt it was finally safe to return to her bardic studies.  She considered that it would be wise to learn many of her ancestors’ stories, just as the bards of old sang the lives of those who had gone before, weaving the strands of long ago into the pattern of everyday living.  Now, Aoife sat at her laptop PC, the internet just a keystroke away, thinking about her commitment to remember Oisin and Caoilte, and the rest of the fianna.  Despite their words of caution that she would not gain much insight into who they truly were from reading stories of who others thought they should be, she thought the best place to start was to learn the stories written about them anyway.  After all, the only story about them with which she was familiar was the one about the cave and that had nothing to do with what happened while they were alive. 

                So, with excitement, Aoife began a rudimentary google search.  Once she started reading, she got lost for hours in the retelling of all their countless adventures and otherworldly encounters and exploits and nearly thwarted escapes from captivity, battles, and nomadic hunting excursions.  She read about how Oisin was purportedly born.  How, the first time Fionn came to that forlorn dreary stretch of woods, he found a deer which neither of his dogs would harm.  When he brought the deer inside his house, she turned into a beautiful otherworldly woman.  She was Sadbh of the Sidhe, transfigured by an evil doer, and Fionn was the only human being whose protection kept her in her true form.  Sadbh was Fionn’s truest love, but tragically he could not forever stay indoors with her – this no one could do, surely—and so she was found and taken as a deer back to the woods.  The last time Fionn came upon those same woods, he found a boy, naked and surely frightfully cold, whom he recognized to be his son.  For this reason he named the boy Oisin, which means “Little Faun.”

Aoife then read about the time when Fionn was captured and Caoilte burned a great number of fields and killed hundreds of men, women, and children in his grief and then (not unlike Noah from a very different place and time) had to gather two of every kind of wild creature and bring them all to the king before Fionn was set free.  The majority of this story listed all the manner of wild thing Caoilte captured but didn’t give many details about why Fionn was imprisoned.  Aoife was struck by how oddly similar the tale was, besides it’s apparent Noah connection, to the story of Demeter who in her grief on losing her daughter to the underworld, refuses to allow anything to grow, any crops to survive, or any patch of earth to be fertile or green.  Less seriously the list of animals made her recall the scene in a Monte Python movie in which a character extolls the various animals, objects, birds, and all other plethora of items on which the people “feasted and were glad” upon receiving the Holy Hand Grenade.  She had a terrifically fun moment with this image before, inevitably, considering just how many innocent people died in many stories, but this one especially.

Although all the accounts about the fianna were fascinating and full of adventure and would probably make a very successful action movie, Aoife was greatly disturbed by all the seemingly useless violence.  It didn’t surprise her that they’d killed so many people, sometimes in the name of war, other times just because they could.  She knew she didn’t share the same value system so central to a time when classes and hierarchies were taken for granted, a time fraught with warring tribes, a time defined through standards and a quality of life that she could never know or ever completely understand.  She tried, sometimes more successfully than at other times, , to withhold judgment about the decisions people made in the past even while she searched through and weighed the consequences of their actions almost unconsciously, attempting to piece together lessons she might learn in order to find the joy in life they knew and avoid the hardships and pitfalls they did not see coming. 

Aoife was at heart a progressive, almost socialist pacifist and believed fervently in the maxim “We are all some mother’s child,” rather than in the efficacy of war.  She believed that race, color, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or religious creed were all aspects of identity that had no bearing on the respect and consideration of human dignity which everyone deserved and was worthy of.  She believed class shouldn’t even exist.  She was determined to have a lively philosophical discussion with Oisin and Caoilte about the use of violence and whether it was ever morally justified when the right time presented itself.  Although she knew they would probably have to agree to disagree on some points, she was more than curious to find out what the fianna would think about modern values and she might even change her mind about some of her opinions.  It was fantastic that she could simply just ask them, she thought, grinning like a mystified child.

                It was then that Aoife came across one of the most told stories about Oisin that exists: the story of Niamh and Oisin in the land of the young, tír na nóg.  She read about how Oisin had been out hunting, and wasn’t having much luck, when he saw the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen riding across the white capped waves of the sea on a horse that had no equal in all of Éirinn.  The woman had long flowing golden hair, and her eyes shown with unfathomable depth and piercing clarity, and were so like the pearls found in the shells of oysters that cling to the rocks at low tide that it was impossible to tell their milky white hue from that of the foamy crests of water that held her reflection.  Oisin asked her for her name once she came ashore, for he was already so in love with her that he could think of nothing else but to be with her.  The woman replied that she was Niamh, daughter of Manannon Mac Lír, the god of the sea and one of the Tuatha de Danann, no less.  She told Oisin that she had come seeking him and was so in love with him that she wished to take him with her to her country, tír na nóg, and there be married and live happily.  She was adamant and persuasive, and came across as one who had always gotten her way.  She told Oisin that Tír na nóg as a land of flowers and fields and forests, a land without strife or toilsome striving, where no one grew old and no one died.

                Oisin knew that, if he accepted Niamh’s offer, he would never see his father or the rest of the fianna again.  He asked for one night to think it over.  On the next dawn, he knew he must go with her to this strange land.  He had to see this place for himself, and more importantly, Niamh’s fairy charm was irresistible and he knew he could never be happy again without her.  In Tír na nóg, Oisin had three children and lived very happily with Niamh, but after three years he missed his homeland of Ireland sorely, and longed to see his own people again.  Niamh did not tell him that while three years had passed in her country, three hundred years had passed in his.  She did try to persuade him not to return home, but Oisin’s mind was set and it was impossible for another person, even his true love, to unmake his mind.  And so, Oisin went to Éirinn on Niamh’s only condition, that he not set foot on the ground, for then the years would catch up with him and he would be very old.  Oisin meant to keep his promise, but it was not to be.

When he got to Ireland he was overcome with grief at not finding any trace of his family or companions.  Just before returning sorrowfully to Niamh, he saw several men trying to lift a large and heavy boulder.  Being always an empathic soul who wished more than anything else to help those in need, Oisin began to lift the rock for them and it was then that the saddle slipped from the horse and he fell to the ground.  He became an old, blind, withered, wrinkled man, dependent on others to survive (which must have been quite a change as he never went through the stages of growing old as most folk do.)  He died belonging neither to the land he was born to nor the land in which he raised his children, neither in the arms of his love nor among friends.  It was presumably only once he died, that Oisin gained some semblance of peace.

                Aoife sat staring at her computer screen, stunned.  It was not occurring to her to ask whether the story was accurate.  It was not occurring to her to start reading another story, or indeed do anything at all.  Somewhat numbly, she covered her face with her hands and squinted, hoping, praying to whomever she could think of—a rock, the god Lugh, her dog—that she would not feel, that she would not think, that she would not remember.  But she did remember.  She began to sob.  She was not just crying for Oisin, she knew all too well, she was crying for herself, and for Conn, or perhaps despite Conn.

                Connell, hence Conn for short, had been her only, her true love.  Well, she thought he had been her true love.  There were too many similarities between her story she gave the world about her relationship and the one told about Oisin to not wonder if it was more than likely that Niamh, who at first came across as flawless, beautiful, loving, and kind, in the end turned out to be a waking nightmare.  For Aoife had, for a long time, told her siblings and friends that she was happy, more than happy, couldn’t imagine her life without her love, and wished they could spend an eternity together even though this was a big, blunt lie.  She persisted in keeping up the facade of contentment and joy even while Conn slowly and steadily kept her more and more to himself, until she hardly saw her friends or spoke with her family.  In truth, Conn would often cling to Aoife like a vulnerable toddler and whine that if she truly loved him, she would go away with him to share a little world of their own and only have each other.  In truth she was as terrified to be with Conn as to be without him, and he made sure of that.

When she first met Conn on that infernal August morning, a mere 104 degrees, Aoife felt as though she was a weary lost and bedraggled traveler who, upon the brink of death, suddenly stumbles on an oasis and eagerly revives herself with the water she thought she’d never find.  Aoife had been promised the world, in fact more than the world.  Somehow Conn knew all of her weaknesses, all of her insecurities, and all of her places where she was too vulnerable to fight, but it was over a year before Aoife questioned whether his having such knowledge about her was anything other than safe and genuine intimacy.  She had nothing to compare her experience to.  .  When he found out about the death of her parents, he had assured Aoife that she would be accepted into his large family and would never be abandoned again.  He wrote her long romantic love letters.  He held her for hours.  He told her there was something special about her and that most men wouldn’t see it, but he did.  He told her that she was the only person he could be himself with, that he’d found the one, that he couldn’t live without her.

He had been so loving that she felt comfortable sharing her ability to see the spirit world with him.  He swore he understood, and assured her that she was strange and exotic and other men would make fun of her for her differences, but that he, Conn, cherished and valued her.  Sometimes he got angry with her for wearing clothes that he felt made her look like Lolita and would insist that she change into something less revealing when they went out, even if it was otherwise completely appropriate.  He would then cajole her with a pout in his voice that he loved her so much that he couldn’t bear to have another man look at her.  To please him, Aoife would go change, happy to have found someone who was so brutally honest and loyal.  She also knew not to make new friends, especially guy friends, because Conn would get jealous and start calling her incessantly to check her whereabouts and even threaten to track her, but he earnestly explained holding her hand and looking deep into her eyes, that he only acted this way out of love and because he had had some traumatic event happen to him as a child.  So Aoife did exactly what Conn wished her to do.  If Conn was hurt, she knew how that felt, and she would not hurt him further.

                Conn hated technology and disliked living near too many people.  He told Aoife his dreams of living off grid with her in a remote part of Wyoming, where their nearest neighbor would be at least a mile away.  He lovingly insisted that Aoife was selfish for wanting the amenities of an apartment, and promised that she could always depend on him to survive.  If and when Aoife ever challenged his opinions or thought differently, he would go into a fit and break things, important things, and he’d put her down for her education and remind her that he had gotten where he was in life with nothing.  It didn’t matter that he had no degree himself, he was intelligent and smart and the education system was corrupt and bureaucratic.  Aoife would worry that something was wrong with her and promise to try to love him better, do more for him, cease being judgmental and listen more, whatever it took to calm him down until the love of her life returned.  Then he would gather her up in his arms and kiss her and tell her he wanted to be her life partner.

This went on and on.  Aoife found Conn more and more unbearable to be around, but the tenacity and power she once had in abundance continued to slowly ebb out of her bones as if the tide in her only knew how to recede.  What was more frightening than Conn, however, was the absence of the light inside her.  She would sometimes, very cautiously, peer within herself and more often than not come up empty handed.  When she saw no light at all, though, something shifted.  Despite the fear and her grief which was so palpable she thought for sure it might drown her, she knew better than to never, ever let anyone take all the light that burned inside her, that made her her own.  That light kept keening so persistently, though now quiescently, to shine, always shine, that she could not ignore it’s calling to her, the call to return and belong to the only one she would ever be in this world.

                On one of the rare occasions when Conn went back to visit his family, Aoife knew what she had to do.  Her heart was a stone, but the neurons in her brain were on fire.  She would live, she must.  She shipped back his things and changed the locks.  She called her brother and he had stayed with her a week, until she had stopped shaking, until they knew Conn would not return to try and hurt her.

When Aoife left, she left knowing only that some part of her deserved more, was more.  She felt more guilty and uncertain than she had ever thought possible, and was afraid that Conn was right and that she was inadequately prepared to live her own life, a life without him in it.  When Aoife left, she continued for a while to hope that Conn would change, and they could live the life they had planned together.  She told herself that Conn had only threatened to hit her once.  He hadn’t actually hit her, just did things like yell at her to watch her jump and get angry when she went out with her friends.  These were the excuses she would give herself as to why it wasn’t all that bad and she could live with it, but somehow she knew she was now lying to herself as well.

It was only after she left, a month or more after, that the word abuse ever came to mind.  Who, besides someone skilled at manipulation, guilt, feigned neediness, and practiced apathy would make someone choose between their relationship and their friends and family?  She had not waited until she was old and frail to leave.  But those months in the beginning, when Conn was her world, when all good and meaningful things in life felt permanently eclipsed by his brilliance and undying love, when all she could see was him, him, him, filling every inch of her horizon, when he made her feel special and unique and loved beyond any love she had ever known: it was as if a fairy from another land had waltzed into her life.  Within a year they were living together, and in the months before she left they were already talking about marriage.  After that, once the relationship began to go downhill, Aoife had lived in the land of youth in yet another way.  Conn, as it turned out, had the emotional capacity of a five-year-old.  If he did not get his way, he threw a tantrum.  Granted, it was a tantrum of emotional blackmail, fear, obligation and guilt, threats, rage, and sometimes desperate displays of tears which was more sophisticated than simply throwing yourself on the floor and pounding your fists, but it was just as ineffective.  Aoife found herself unwittingly in the role of mother one moment, lover the next, and it was disconcerting and exhausting.  Thank the gods they had not had children.

Aoife often hoped that, had Conn succeeded in isolating her completely, she still would have found the courage to walk away, but of that, she would fortunately never be sure.  Now looking back at that time which she filed away under “relationship mistakes,” it was almost as if the time with Conn was a dream, a surreal blip on the timeline of her varied existence, as if she had spent more than a year sleep walking, as if she had moved in a waking coma, as if she had given her very heart and soul away not realizing she had surrendered, almost willingly, to become the play thing of a bangle tiger.  She was not sure how she woke up before the tiger swallowed her whole, but she knew she was still mending the pieces of herself that had been so skillfully torn away.  She knew, then, she was stronger than she had ever given herself credit for.  She knew Conn had picked the wrong sort to mess with, and over time she learned her worth in this world.  She knew she had almost missed her chance to wake up, but she was now wide awake and would never be lulled asleep again.

                Once again Aoife surrendered, this time in safety, to the flashbacks and her tears.  Perhaps if she cried enough she would learn to live with the experience, as a war veteran might learn to live with the shrapnel permanently embedded in his shoulder.  She let herself cry until she was spent, and tired, and could resolve once again to no longer give away her power to this man and the wounds he inflicted on her already bruised and battered spirit.  It was late, she realized, and so she ate some chocolate and went to bed.

                But the next morning she couldn’t put the story of Tír na nóg out of her mind.  It had been over a week since she saw Caoilte or Oisin, and she found she very much wanted Oisin to know that she understood what he might have gone through.  She sat down and ate a bowl of cereal and then sat on the sofa to read her email, but behind her eyes were images of Oisin leaving his family, and never seeing them again, all for the sake of a girl.  No human being could be worth such a sacrifice, Aoife thought adamantly, because it was such an insidious choice to force someone to make.  Surely there were strong people in the world, like Oisin, who would never fall for such a trick as the one Niamh must have pulled.  But if there was any truth at all to the story, even someone as strong as Oisin had fallen for it, for a longer time than she had.

                Tears came unbidden into Aoife’s eyes again.  This time she did cry just for Oisin, for the unnamed and incalculable parts of himself and people he loved that he had lost without any struggle or fight or last stand, just stolen in the name of love out from under his nose by a woman who was very probably damaged, and broken, even while stunningly beautiful.  A woman who was hungry for all she could never have and, like Conn tried to do to Aoife, devoured everything he had.  She cried.  It was only when she finally looked up, after what seemed to her like a long time but might have merely been moments, that she realized she was not alone.

Oisin stood next to her, his hand, which she couldn’t actually feel, resting on her shoulder, his face full of concern.  It was so odd, Aoife thought, that she didn’t shriek or pull away or do any of the other things she usually did when someone surprised her, especially if that person was of the opposite gender.  She had generally been very afraid of people, particularly men, since she had left that terrifying relationship with Conn.  Perhaps, she mused only momentarily, she really was healing from it.

                “Please don’t cry,” Oisin said quietly. 

                “Sorry,” Aoife always felt a bit embarrassed when someone saw her cry, “I never meant for you to have to come comfort me for being upset about something that happened to you.”  The whole scenario struck Aoife as being opposite what it should be.  “I wanted to comfort you, let you know you are not alone.  I just really empathized with what you went through, never seeing your family again. Was it like…” she stumbled on, trailing off unsure how to say what she wanted to say.  He had so much more experience than she did, having been in the world so long ago.  There must be something more important to ask someone so ancient.

                “I don’t remember all the details of what it was like.  But I do know that you’ve been through many struggles, and when you found your strength to actually walk away, learned what you were worth, and discovered that leaving doesn’t always mean giving up, I was very proud of you.  It took me a much, much longer time to realize that I would give up everything by staying, and gain everything by leaving.  It was almost too late when I learned that”

                “Did you ever find your family after you left?” Aoife asked.

“Sometimes it’s possible to physically be with your family while being further away than you have ever been in your life.  But I have had hundreds of your years in this world to be with my family.  I’m no longer sad or angry or divided.”

“I understand,” Aoife replied, and she really did.  Then after a while she asked, “I just wondered, how did you know I was with someone and left him?  If you were there, then, why didn’t… I… see you?” She was going to ask why he hadn’t come to talk with her then to warn her to stay away, but decided it wasn’t good on her to ask that question.

                Oisin smiled knowingly.  “Well, you weren’t ready to hear a warning from anyone, not even your siblings and school friend who valiantly tried.  Let’s say, your mind was made up and nothing would unmake it.” After a moment, he went on, “You were so defensive back then, that you were blind to the world beyond the physical world.”

                Aoife nodded.  He was right, of course.  She was shut off from everything back then, including herself.  “I didn’t read what actually happened to you, did I?” she asked almost as a statement.  “Can you tell me everything you know that happened?  Perhaps it might help someone else realize it’s time to open their eyes.”

                Oisin sat down facing her.  He truly did not know the details of all that happened, not anymore.  “A long, long time ago,” he began, “I reconciled myself with Niamh, for I do recall her name was in fact Niamh.  She was of noble birth, for sure, but not Manannon’s daughter.  I never met Manannon or his daughter until my life was through, and they would very much like to clear up the misunderstanding.  In the world beyond your world, after some time…if I can speak of something such as time happening in a place where time doesn’t mean the same thing as it does to you, I learned to forgive her.  Most importantly, I forgave myself.  After that, there was no need to remember the details.  The lesson was, first, to find the good that can be saved from the experience.  I cherish my children who I would not have had without her.  I then learned to let go and move on, as you’re doing now.”  He paused for a moment and then he thought of something and his eyes gleamed in the half-light of the room.  “I will tell you a different story.” He said.

The Birth of Oisin:
http://www.mc.maricopa.edu/~thoqh49081/celtic/oisin1.html

Oisin in tír na nóg:
http://www.shee-eire.com/Magic&Mythology/Myths/FinnMacCool/Oisin-TirnaNog/Page1.htm
For a different version which I have not heard told anywhere else go here:
http://www.horsesoftirnanog.org/legend.htm

 

 

I don’t wish to write about the subject of unhealthy or abusive relationships without providing some information that might be helpful.  In no way am I at all qualified to assist anyone in any official manner, beyond sharing my experience.  In my experience, then, while anyone can do a google search, sometimes the people who are most in need are those who are too terrified, traumatized, overwhelmed, depressed, or too isolated and in danger to do a search themselves, and I hope this helps them.

 

The National Domestic Abuse Hot Line:

http://www.thehotline.org/

 

The Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program, resources, articles, and community run by Melanie Tonia Evans:

www.melanietoniaevans.com.

 

The Verbal Abuse Site Run by Patricia Evans (no relation to Melanie, it is simply coincidence):

http://www.verbalabuse.com/.  Many of her books can be found on Amazon or Audible.com.

 

Eilish Niamh