The most coincidental part of this post is that I don’t know how to start it, where it will go, or how I will conclude it…
Long story short, I have a hard time with “being” anywhere. I like moving and changing and working and seeing projects and plans come to fruition, but I have the hardest time just allowing myself to be. I recently went to Ireland (as I mentioned in A Question For My Readers back in February) so I could learn how to be. I purposefully planned very little and didn’t bring enough with me to fully distract myself in a dull moment.
I got lost in Dublin on my second day (only half-intentionally) for about 4 hours. I started my morning with a tour of the Jameson Distillery around 11am and had plans to meet up with some people from my hostel in the late afternoon, but otherwise had nothing else scheduled for the day. With such a light load, I decided to look for landmarks that peeked over the tops of all the other buildings, which meant that I got to see a lot of beautiful cathedrals and other apparently very important buildings. I tried to use the river Liffey as my reference point since it practically cuts through north and south Dublin. The majority of the landmarks I came to were in southwest Dublin, but I wanted to return to an area closer to central Dublin, so I turned south and walked until I passed Liffey.
This is where the awareness of my bearings halted while I continued on my way. Now that I think back to it, that is also the point I heard a shouting in the distance, as if my bearings were calling out to me to “come back because you’ve never gone that way before even though you believe you have.” As I continued in the direction I believed to be south, albeit with a few twists and turns, the scenery changed drastically. I don’t just mean that buildings got smaller and there were slightly fewer people walking about, I mean there were no more landmarks poking over the tops of buildings, and there wasn’t a soul on the sidewalk besides my own and that of my shoes. I decided that I’d at least enjoy myself and see how the locals lived.
If you’ve ever seen an episode of Doctor Who or any other show featuring characters from suburban UK/West Europe, you know what I saw for the following two hours. Every street was seemingly composed of a single building with doorways spaced every 30-40 feet (or every 9-12 meters, for the more brilliant ones in the world that use the metric system), the area around and in front of the doorways had small, knee-to-waist-high walls around the perimeter, and some sort of scant foliage or garden with a walkway bisecting it that led from the door to the front gate that opened to the sidewalk. The first half-hour of this repetitious sight was amusing, the second half-hour was peculiar (wondering how many people in Ireland or Europe as a whole lived like this compared to the majority of America which lives in individual, free-standing houses), the third half-hour was exhausting, and the final half-hour was disheartening and rather agonizing.
Two hours is just about enough time to track which direction the sun is moving, so I finally found my way roughly-northward, and after several attempts to return south because I continually ran into a river I believed to be the tail end of the Liffey, I asked someone who I had no doubt was a local (since I was too far away from anything a tourist might want to see) where Christ Church Cathedral was.
I have only ever seen such pity in someone’s eyes when witnessing a baby deer trying to walk for the first time.
Turns out the waterway has no name that I could discern, and runs alongside R111 in south Dublin, but it most certainly is not the River Liffey… So I turned north-ish-ward once again, crossed the stream of deceit and treachery, passed Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, and found myself on the corner of St. Stephen’s Green. “I’m found,” I thought, “I can finally return back to my hostel!”
You see, I live in Phoenix, Arizona. I have lived here for ~10 years now. Every street is very nearly parallel to north-south and east-west. I, being an increasingly more naïve tourist with each passing moment, operated under the assumption that a) the majority of the streets in Dublin would be aligned similarly, and b) St. Stephen’s Green, at the very least, was aligned with the cardinal directions, and thus I was standing on the southeast corner of the square. While not entirely incorrect, it would be far more accurate to say “the southern tip” of St. Stephen’s Green, and that I walked to the northern tip, which I believed to be the northwest. I also had mistaken St. Patrick’s Cathedral for St. Andrew’s Church (because who needs to read signs that indicate one’s location, anyways?), and thus was utterly perplexed when trying to discern my way back to Christ Church Cathedral after passing the statue of Miss Molly Malone at least a half dozen times. Next time I go to Dublin, I’m printing out my own map and circling all major landmarks, and including pictures of each.
It wouldn’t be for another roughly hour and a half until I’d finally ask the right elderly gentlemen (who looked stereotypically Irish) to steer me along the correct course. Back in the common room of my hostel, I recounted my misadventure to new friends, laughing at how blissfully unaware I was of the cockeyed and labyrinthine quality of the streets.
So let me ask you, when did I ever mention the thoughts running through my head, any attempts to contemplate my future career, or anything else resembling consideration for my reputation or what I could make of myself? That’s right, I didn’t, and it’s not because I’m a bad storyteller, however true or untrue that may be (I’m not really in the business of critiquing myself).
Any time I got frustrated or upset with the situation, I realized that anger would only befuddle my sense of direction further, I had to learn how to accept that I was lost, and that the only way to become un-lost was to continue moving forward. I was forced into a state of being. Quite transparently, I was more upset when I returned to my hostel and I realized I hadn’t thought about anything useful while meandering the streets. I observed and reacted, but otherwise had no meaningful epiphanies or revelations. I had a harder time extinguishing that frustration because I’m used to 2-3 strands of thought at any one time, with at least one tugging me towards my beloved existential crises. In the end, I do not regret that experience, nor do see it as a waste of time because, though I had to bypass seeing Trinity College and the Book of Kells, the Irish Whiskey Museum, The Oscar Wilde House, the Teeling Whiskey Distillery, and Iveagh Gardens, I learned (or rather, was forced to learn) how to be.
Though this is not one of my regular posts where I write a simple poem or story short enough for those with limited attention spans, this is not quite the end of the lesson for me (I promise it’s not much longer, though).
The featured image of this post is not Dublin, nor Galway (the two most commonly blogged cities of Ireland). It is a picture of the moment I understood how to be, and more honestly, the moment I realized how much beauty I have been overlooking recently.
I spent three days clutching my stomach from perpetual laughter while hanging out with a couple of Polish ladies in Galway, followed by an afternoon of frustration, nausea, and more realization of how lost I was.
After parting ways with the Polish ladies, I was supposed to fly an airplane (yeah, I mean I’d be controlling a real, life-sized airplane from inside the cockpit) in Frenchpark, and was more than eager to make the memory and tell the story about it. The trouble is that there is a Frenchpark as a suburb of Galway, and there is more major city called Frenchpark about two and a half hours north of Galway. Having forgotten the name of the company I’d be flying with, and having internet access only while within the range of Wifi, I made my way to the suburb of Galway since the Groupon deal I found was “located in or near” Galway, and there was an airport in Galway. If you’ve done any research into the Galway Airport, you will know that it ceased all operations in 2015. This is not on the list of things I knew prior to arriving in the “wrong” Frenchpark.
So as to not piss and moan further, I will just say that I did not fly an airplane that day, and I continued on to Doolin. I kept my chin up because this missed opportunity meant I got to spend a few more hours in Doolin, which I had heard was beautiful. I was not prepared for the gravity of that statement, however.
I fell asleep about ten minutes into the journey along the coast of Ireland and woke up an hour later feeling like I had just stepped off a disorienting carnival ride. I spent the remainder of the journey holding back what I was certain was my lunch. I think other passengers saw my agony, as I noticed a few slid farther away from me and looked at my pale face out of the corners of their eyes with concern and anticipation. Finally after a few more swallowed dry heaves and attempts at distracting myself with everything that was not my stomach, we arrived in Doolin and the driver dropped me off on the side of the road outside a tourist information center.
I found my way to my hostel, got situated in my room, and decided that rather than napping off the nausea, a walk and some fresh air would do me some good and perhaps settle my stomach. I walked along a road that led to a pub and some shops (as does every road in Ireland) until I came to the most incredible winding stream that led straight out into the Atlantic. I immediately started crying, the wind stinging my cheeks as the drying tears left trails of salt from the corners of my eyes to my chin. The featured image of this post is precisely what I was met with, only despite the touch of editing I did, the real thing was still more spectacular.
I walked along the road to get ever nearer to the ocean, and was only swept up in awe after overwhelming awe of the natural beauty and power of the ocean, the hills, and the tiny remote town that held so much history and beauty. But that first moment of seeing the river leading out to the ocean… That’s where I learned to be.
For all of the misadventure I had had in Dublin, Galway, and the nauseating ride to Doolin, I forgot every bit of it as well as every bit of myself. I never thought I’d see such immense, profound substance and grace in one singular moment. If Love is not a more intense feeling than that moment, it will not be worth it to me. I felt pursued by the very landscape as the rushing water made its way to the coast and the grass swayed and swept in one accord.
I cannot do it justice with my words or pictures. I only pain myself the more I write about it because not even a practiced elder poet could completely capture all that made the moment one of the finest and most magnificent of my life.
All I can say is, much like this post, I didn’t know how it all started, where it went, and I pray it never concludes. All I knew was that I simply was in that moment, and the precise art of being is one to always be sought but never mastered.