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In 2003, I went to Ireland for three and a half weeks over the Winterim through a program offered by Mount Mary College. We had to choose one of three courses to take during our stay — I chose Irish Literature, no surprise there. I’d have taken theoretical mathematics and failed it miserably if it meant I could go to Ireland (thank God it didn’t come to that).
I had wanted to go to the British Isles ever since I could remember. And at the start of the semester, I walked into school, and saw the flier taped to the wall: Winterim in Ireland. My heart absolutely stopped. I marched straight down to the office and made an appointment to find out just what I needed to do to get there. They only had two spaces left, and they needed a deposit today in order to hold my place. I wrote a check, asking that he give it a day or two for the deposit I’d need to rush home and make to clear in my account.
I didn’t discuss it with my parents. I didn’t consult my then-husband. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I just did it.
I think now and then about all the what if’s — what if I hadn’t had that overage check from tuition socked away in my underwear drawer? What if I’d consulted my parents/then-husband and they’d tried to talk me out of it? What if I hadn’t seen that flier? What if I had and the trip had already been filled? But that didn’t happen.
What did happen was that I told my friend Char V. about the trip, and she signed up. We went together on an adventure that cemented a friendship into a sisterhood. I fought a little bit with both of my parents about going so far away — something they didn’t really like, because they didn’t really understand my need to do it. And then I went out and got my passport. I fought with my then-husband, knee-deep in the ashes of our failing marriage, a day before I left to go, after no protest from him whatsoever for four months. And then, at one in the morning, he helped me finish packing.
I cannot describe to you what it felt like for me to just go off and decide this, to follow through with it, despite all of the opposition. I’d been such a good daughter, and such a good wife. Always looking to please others. Making this decision, and going through with it was the first hammer-blow to the chains I’d bound myself with. I left here a girl, and came back a different woman.
The moment we landed in Dublin, we boarded a bus that would take us to our lodgings for the first week. There was something flapping wildly in my chest — which I thought then was just a reaction to the way that the busdriver was navigating the busy streets of Dublin (he, and everyone else I saw, drove as though they were driving a tank at breakneck speeds on open roads…even when they weren’t).
That feeling wasn’t a result of being imperiled by a rogue busdriver. It wasn’t nerves, or fear. It was the most powerful sensation of coming home that I’d ever had in my entire life – to a place I’d only ever been in my dreams.
The moment we got our room assignment and toted (by hand) our incredibly heavy bags up the two flights of narrow stairs, I grabbed Char’s hand and said, “Let’s go!” To which she replied, “Where?” Anywhere! I wanted my feet on the ground. I wanted to smell the air. I wanted to stand there, knowing I was in Ireland, feeling the fluttery joy of homecoming in my chest.
From that first foray, through the entire trip, I struggled to swallow that feeling. I couldn’t understand it. I’d grown up in Wisconsin. I felt at home at my parents’ house. I loved it there. In the intervening years I’ve learned that some things aren’t meant to be understood. They’re only meant to be felt or experienced, without attaching reason to them.
The president of the college — a woman who I had a bit of hero-worship for – had married an Irishman, and used those contacts to craft a truly incomparable journey for us. At one point, she told me that I looked like I’d been born there, I fit in so well. I’d seen that myself — no one knew I wasn’t Irish until I opened my mouth and my Midwestern accent flowed out, exposing me.
I savored each minute. I took 33 rolls of film. I went to every single talk and presentation we were offered, and went along on misadventures with our smaller group of cronies every night. I barely slept – I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.
And there are times now, here, when I walk out the door and something about the day triggers a deep and inconsolable sense of loss and homesickness. Something about the moisture in the air, or the freshness of the breeze, or the quality of light shining through overcast skies. And I could just weep.
I don’t though. I swallow that longing, and store it away. Because I know that someday, I’ll go back. Someday, I will stand on the shores of the home of my heart, and feel that fullness again. Someday, I will stand on a bridge spanning the Liffey, and look around at the low buildings that feel so familiar and know that they’re mine. Mine, whether I’m there on the Liffey, or here in Wisconsin longing for them.
I was feeling nostalgic today. Something about the way the air’s so fresh coming in our apartment windows. Enjoy the pictures. And wish me luck on, someday, getting back home.