Monday, June 27, 2016

The Third Letter

Off to the match with new friends

Tipp v Limerick (Tipp won)
Dearest Ireland,

As you will fondly recall, we first met in person last summer when I discovered a "Fiddler's Retreat" online. That sounded like the perfect way for us to get acquainted.... fiddle lessons by morning, sight seeing by afternoon, and playing along in a pub in the late evening (pub music generally starts in Ireland around 10).

The retreat was located in county Tipperary. I pulled out a map. What's this??!! Totally land locked! No famous cliffs, few attractions in the travel guides, mostly rolling hills and pasture land. Weeelll....I did want to see the REAL you so maybe this would be okay. And honestly, I couldn't find any better options, considering I wasn't going to risk renting a car and driving on the wrong side.  And I didn't want to have to share you with a tour bus load of blarney-eyed Americans.

I had no idea how my life was about to change. Your's too. During that short week, I learned that Tipperary is not located in the heart of Ireland by chance. It IS your heart! Well that's my opinion anyway. Medieval wonders, breathtaking landscapes, music sessions that you, yourself, seem to be conducting and people who are charming, passionate and hospitable. In the heart of Tipperary is Thurles Town, where I'm spending my summer with Doc (You'll have to hear more about him later).

Thurles is home to the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) that fuels your fiery spirit by sponsoring and nurturing your beloved progeny: Hurling!  It's a 3000 year old Gaelic game (not what Americans usually associate with "hurling"), played on a field between two teams, something like soccer or football, but with sticks. It's your national sport and your people love it. Each county has a team... and heroes... and stories about conquests and defeats that may rival those of 9th century Viking warriors. Children learn it early and old men fly team flags from their windows and chat about it on the streets. Everyone seems to be at the games, flashing their county colors.

So I shouldn't have been surprised last week in Killarney when Doc and I were in a pub, chatting with a cute 30-something couple from Illinois.  Doc asks the guy if he liked sports and when the answer was an unconditional absolutely, Doc suggested they come to the game in Thurles on Sunday. We got them tickets, had them over for lunch and took them to the family gathering afterwards. Hot tea and freshly baked scones for all.  They said it was the best day of their 10 day Ireland vacation. And their later facebook post confirmed it.

Doc, and others, are teaching me by example what it means to reach out to people, to show kindness to strangers, and to share our time and hearts with others. Tomorrow we're expecting guests from Arizona whom Doc contacted a few years ago when he discovered they are descendants of his great, great aunt who emigrated during the famine years. He arranged a big reunion here in 2004 of distant, long lost cousins that inspired as much enthusiasm as a hurling match final.  He is still in touch with many of them and extending the invitation.

I knew there were going to be things to learn this summer beyond the origins of the Cistercians and configurations of court tombs.  I've become much more private over the last few years and in doing so, I know I've missed opportunities... to show gratitude for all I have, to share God's love with the people I meet and to enrich my own life by discovering and accepting what others have to offer.

So I'm airing out my extrovert overcoat this summer, because it looks like I'm going to be needing it.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Second Letter

Up to Devil's Bit
Dearest Ireland,

There are some things you don't know about me. You may think I'm a sleazy nationizer who has had love affairs with a variety of countries.  That would not be true. I've actually been much of a home body most of my life. But when desperation tossed me out of my comfort zone, I leaned on trust in God and a willing spirit to steady myself. And I soon found I could stand up straight and even move forward.

My first flight alone was to Alaska, and I couldn't have been more excited and terrified had I been planning to climb Denali (in one a snow storm.....naked). It was my first real giant step out of my old normal and into the new. I prayed and prayed about that trip and the result was a year of new friends, unimaginable adventures and a long overdue healing within my deepest parts.

Now here I am back on your sunny shores (haha, did that make you laugh?) for the fourth time in a year. My flight was a breeze. But preparing to be gone for three months did make me anxious. I had an enormous checklist of things to get done and the more I did, the longer it grew. I'm still trying to resolve some house repair issues back home by phone and email.

Muckross Abbey in Killarney
The day I landed I was practically obsessing over what I may have forgotten. There was really nothing that couldn't have been replaced here, but insecurity kept nagging at me anyway. Just when I started to relax and realize all was well, I got an automated phone call from my pharmacy stating my prescription was ready for pick up. What???? I don't take any prescriptions! Do I? Maybe I do and I forgot. I called to confirm and no, I don't take any prescriptions. I started thinking about that movie, Gaslight, with Ingrid Bergman. Circumstances made her doubt her own sanity.

Okay, I'm not that far gone. In fact, after the jet lag wore off, I was happily unpacking and asking Doc where we should go first: Kilcooley Abbey (ornate stone carving in this isolated 12th century ruin), Killarney National Park (with beautiful vistas, Muckross Abbey and several nature trails) or maybe a hike up the Devil's Bit (where legend has it that Satan took a bite out of the mountain and what he spit out became the Rock of Cashel)? I've been here five days and we've done all of these.

Tomb in Kilcooley
But as you may guess, dear Ireland, the joy of being your homeland guest is not in just checking sights off a tour map, but interacting, imagining, embracing and feeling embraced. Your soul isn't trapped beneath the earth nor wedged between the stones. Everywhere I go, it floats almost visibly in the air.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The First Letter

Resting at the Rock of Cashel
Dearest Ireland,

Can you believe it? We met! It's been almost a year since I zipped up my confidence, buttoned down my brave and stepped on that plane that delivered me into your  glorious arms.  Thanks for waiting for me all those years.  I know you sensed something was missing until I got there.

I remember the many long ago Thursday evenings sitting at home by the stereo that had the built-in cassette player.  I'd listen to "Music of the Isles" and record all your beautiful ballads and a few choice dance tunes. That was before I knew a jig from a reel from a hornpipe and had never raised a fiddle to my chin. But your poetic rhythms stole my heart and fostered a magical lucid dream that I'm still wandering through and can't seem to wake from.

In grad school I studied your folklore and felt that mystical allure that makes Americans smile and nod with recognition. A refugee from a lost tale, I felt a twinge of homesickness, a longing for a kingdom I'd never seen that lay far beyond my reach but not forgotten.  I wrote a paper on the variants of Lazy Jack (okay, not the most romantic Celtic tale) and made a slide show (high tech!) featuring a menagerie of denizens of fairy land.  Enchantment galore, but it was mostly on me.

Now, in discovering the real you, I've started to grasp the nuances of your culture and the sweetness of your spirit.  No longer mythical, but fully come to life in ways both surprising and familiar. Elves and leprechauns don't interest me, but ancient passage tombs and desolate abbeys are as intoxicating as pints of Guinness and send me staggering from stone to stone to encounter my ancestors and find my link in the chain.

Maybe that's the whole draw..... to find my place, discover more about me than what the present can offer. If I can be here and then there, geographically speaking, then I can sense the here and there of the ages..... of culture and religion and the arts and most everything.  Like rambling through the ruins of a medieval castle, maybe I can identify some of the rubble and do some rebuilding. Don't we all have rubble that's lying underfoot just waiting to be restored or remade into something elegant for the future? Life is good, but it can always be better.

And so, dearest Ireland, tomorrow I'll toss my fiddle case across my back, once again bid St. Pete a fond farewell and resume the journey that began a year ago.  Do you care if I stay all summer, because that's the plan?  Doc will be waiting for me at Shannon and be my tour guide (and more!) through this summer of learning, growing and searching for pieces of myself among your ancient debris and present-day bounty. Can't wait to see what I find!