When I booked my flight home it was a choice between a relatively cheap flight Tuesday or Thursday. Who doesn’t want an extra two days in London??
Me, it turns out. I’ve done a pretty good job compartmentalizing and shutting away my occasional bouts of homesickness. However, this has become more difficult in the last week or so.
Our brains are amazing, mysterious things. My subconscious has decided to lift the curtain between home and living abroad. This has manifested in strange, seemingly inconsequential ways. I had tiny kitchen sink that was vaguely annoying for several weeks in Edinburgh. It was only in my last few days there that I fondly thought of my giant kitchen sink at home. I can soak a 12in skillet flat in that sucker.
And I’m finding London…annoying. It’s loud. It’s sprawling. It doesn’t have a magnificent castle on top of an ancient volcano.
Some of this annoyance stems from being on my own yet again. I miss my Scotland friends. I miss my Dublin friends. I miss my Oklahoma family. I miss my Denver friends and framily members (oh look, a new word).
And I MISS MY BUNNIES.
I’m making the best of it. Visiting places in London that I didn’t get to when I was here with my mom a few years ago. It doesn’t do me any good to sit at (what passes for) home. But I am counting the hours before I can board the plane.
Last Saturday I had a chance to attend Edinburgh’s March for Independence with a friend. It was a privilege to actually march rather than watch from afar or see it in the news.
One does not have to be directly involved in something to appreciate the hopeful feeling of a group banding together to say “we’re all in this together.”
Context and appreciation as a result of this journey
A very poignant moment was passing a banner of unity between Glasgow’s Celtics and Rangers. My time in Belfast, being steeped in the Troubles of the past and today, primed me to appreciate a conflict that exists today in Glasgow.
Many Irish settled in Scotland, particularly in the west including Glasgow. In a testament to a raw, decades old conflict, Nothern Ireland’s Troubles have spread to Glasgow. Those supporting a unified Irish Republic aligned themselves with the Celtic football team. This lead Unionists (those supporting Northern Ireland’s unity with the United Kingdom) to support the Rangers. There is anger between the fans. Glasgow has seen riots as recently as August.
Seeing a banner of unity in support of an independent Scotland was very meaningful. It’s not always easy to take time to find our commonalities and appreciate the “other side” as multi-dimensional. But it’s vital.
Collective Effervescence (it’s as cool as it sounds)
Brené Brown contends that “the more we’re willing to seek out moments of collective joy and show up for experiences of collective pain- the more difficult it becomes to deny our human connection, even with people we may disagree with.” (Braving the Wilderness, p. 129)
She goes on to talk about Durkheim’s Collective Effervescence– when a group comes together and participates in the same action and creates a collective emotional excitement which serves to unify a group of individuals. He believed that we must participate in these moments to reaffirm the collective unity of a society, otherwise its’ existence is at risk.
you’ve ever wondered why people march, why people took 5 hours out
of their Saturday to walk in the rain, this is why. If you’ve ever
wondered why a bunch of women wore silly pink hats and stood around
on a cold January morning, this is why. Political activism isn’t
always solely political.
20,000 Scots and an American
On a personal level I felt justified in saying I’m not a tourist. The tourists were standing outside shops taking pictures of thousands of passionate Scots. And at least one American.
I wanted to sink my feet into a culture other than the one in which I grew up. I wanted to view life from another angle. I feel I’ve accomplished that to as great extent as possible in 3 months.
I’ve been attending a workshop series at Lighthouse, Edinburgh’s radical bookstore. The workshops are interesting enough that each time I’ve attended a few people have headed to a pub afterward to discuss and digest what they learned.
This has afforded me the opportunity to have deeper conversations and quickly get past the introductory parts of getting to know new people. A couple of other surprisingly deep friendships have arisen from other encounters here in Scotland. Although they are chronologically young, these friendships are born of introspection and critical thinking and I hope they continue beyond my stay here.
And that’s the crux. It came up in conversation after the most recent workshop that “we should continue these conversations.” I won’t be here for that.
The experience was similar leaving Dublin. It made me a bit sad when new friends made plans for book clubs, meetups, etc beyond my time there.
As you realize how big and amazing the world and it’s people really are, you also come to realize that you can’t possibly take it all in. I’ve written before about opportunity cost. More opportunities bring more costs.
However, they also bring more rewards. For me, gratitude is the only way to mitigate and even enjoy the opportunity costs of this trip. My world is bigger than it once was. My possibilities are broader than they once were. Because I created new ones.
So it will be with an air of gratitude that I go into this last week in Edinburgh*. I know social media sometimes sucks. But I am very grateful for the increased likelihood of keeping these new friends in my life. Not to mention seeing each other again when I return.
Though I must point out that social media isn’t a prerequisite for staying in touch. As evidenced by a postcard from Geraldine!
I wrote in my last blog about trying to be present in the moment. Can anyone say “work in progress?”
Fear comes in all forms
We lost two bunnies last year so I was all too aware of what might happen in my absence. For this reason it was actually more difficult to leave Nick Furry and Lisbeth than Daniel. He can come visit more easily and his life expectancy vastly outnumbers theirs.
It’s likely that there will never be a phase of my life where we don’t have pets. So at one time or another I was going to have to leave someone behind to make this journey a reality. My parents, husband, and self are in good health right now so it seemed like the time to make it happen. You never know when you’ll get cancer, lose a limb, or be beset with some other life-altering occurrence.
All this to say- I made my peace with the timing and consequences of this trip.
Some people told me this trip is brave of me. It doesn’t feel brave. At times is feels fanciful, tiring, exhilarating, lonely, life-changing, unreal, scary, and a host of other emotions.
The bravery and vulnerability that feels most pronounced right now is flying in the face of judgement. It feels as though someone out there is probably judging me for my choices. This trip is selfish. How can she leave her husband like that? Gee, I wish I could up and leave my life behind to go abroad. If she’s so big into animal rescue why isn’t she taking care of her own animals?
This of course is me projecting my baggage onto others. And if someone has thought these things that person’s opinion isn’t worth worrying about.
Partly because Nick Furry got sick so close to the end of my trip I did consider coming home. Given the lengthy recovery expected an extra pair of hands would be helpful to Daniel. To say nothing of spending time with Nick Furry.
But Daniel is in some ways a better bunny caregiver then I am. I get overly anxious and occasionally get feint when he administers subcutaneous fluids. Also…I think I might have accidentally insulted him when I started talking about coming home. Sorry honey!
Daniel can manage without me. I also have some coaching obligations over here that I’d really like to keep. So barring some other unforeseen event I’m staying. Though I may be wearing my Stay Presentshirt to rags in the coming weeks.
Present and future, here and there
I’ve done my best to manage homesickness and be present and grateful for where I am during this journey. But knowing the end is approaching and having to make some plans for when I’m home meant that I was turning my thoughts towards the US. In a thoughtful, balanced way.
Now it’s taking a lot more energy and effort to be present and grateful for where I am. What’s that saying about when the student is ready the teacher appears….? Sigh Isn’t there an easier way to learn this lesson?
I’m going to put the heavier matters referred to in my previous post aside for a few moments (things are improving). Instead I’ll reflect on the fact that I have 4 weeks until I head home.
My favorite shirt was $5 on a clearance rack at Target a few years back.
I need a reminder to “Stay present.” I’ve grown fond of describing myself as someone who likes to think things to death. I suspect being present will be a lifelong effort for me.
Life in the States is calling. I’m doing my best to plan what I must and let the rest lie. I’m trying to balance between thinking about life when I get home and reflecting on the last 5 months.
At the moment my plans include lots of journaling. In addition to the personal accounting I’ve (mostly) kept up with, I plan to do some of those great New Age-y questions like “What would you do if you could not fail?” Or my favorite turn on this “What would you do even if you knew you might fail?” What do I want so badly that the possibility of failure doesn’t scare me away?
I also plan to write a sort of manifesto. Rather than saying “It’s just who I am” I believe in the power behind deciding who you want to be and then setting about making that a reality (or something close to it).
It’s important to me that people see the not-so-good stuff on my journey over here. Yes, this trip is super cool. But it comes with costs and I will not pretend otherwise.
Yesterday I had a glow from two exciting professional developments, more friends than time, and a full heart. Now I found myself doing my best to stay busy, alone in a big city, and trying not to cry.
One of our bunnies is sick. Daniel is the best bunny dad there is and Nick Furry is in excellent hands at the vet. So even if I was home there would be nothing I could do. Except support Daniel. Which is nothing to sneeze at.
Instead I sit here distracting myself unsuccessfully with Outlander episodes thanks to Netflix. It’s going to be a long night and I likely won’t sleep much.
Guilt, fear, and loneliness are a potent mix. This part sucks.
Some might remember my Geraldine story from Ireland a couple of months ago. In the midst of learning about sectarianism in Belfast, moving my stuff to Glasgow, and getting to know Scotland, I neglected to tell you the rest of that story.
When Geraldine and I hung out at Kylemore Abbey, she encouraged me to come visit her in the very tippy point of south west Ireland. I was very tempted to take her up on it but my time was getting pretty limited before having to head to Scotland.
On a sunny afternoon I was contentedly writing when my phone rang. It was Geraldine calling to reissue her invitation. Seemed meant to be so I rolled with it and agreed.
6 days later I found myself in her parents home. Her father passed away two years ago and her mother is in a memory care home. I met her nephew, a good lad going to university. Before long we headed out further west into rural Ireland where she currently lived.
In her home I saw her beautiful patio garden. She showed me her final project for her arts degree- clay coffee cups that were arthritis-friendly with a large base instead of a handle.
We spent the next day visiting the beach she played at as a child and wished her mother “Happy Birthday” in big, sprawling letters drawn in the sand.
We saw her mother’s childhood home and her father’s birthplace. I gave her some privacy as she placed fresh flowers on her father’s grave. Even in the distance, I could hear her sing to her father.
We talked about life, love, and the meaning of it all. Two virtual strangers having conversations I haven’t had with some of my oldest friends.
To be welcomed into someone’s life in such a deep way was almost overwhelming. Someone whose life had been so different from mine and yet not different at all in ways that really matter. I found myself immersed in generations old stories and thoughts for the ages.
Geraldine’s hospitality was warmer than a peat fire on a winter night. Her kindness is already one of the most memorable parts of this journey. As a thank you I sent her a copy of my favorite book on creativity – Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.
I’m pretty sure she and I already created Big Magic of our own though.
Every once in a great while, I’ll say something that sticks with me. It can be an everyday conversation that is literally one in one thousand. It wasn’t even a fully formed thought when it left my mouth but somehow I (almost) accidentally spoke my truth.
Does that happen to you?
The Living Room
Three years ago today I had a quiet evening of drinking wine and writing post cards in a warm hotel lobby. My mom and I were on our tour of the UK. She had gone to bed and that lobby was my happy place. Even before two glasses of excellent wine.
The “I want to live abroad” trip I’m currently on was a dim idea in the back of my head when I wrote this three years ago. It was the attitude expressed in that post that got me where I am today.
My kitchen also just happens to be this color of green now….
Like everyone I know, I have struggled with figuring out what I want to do for a living. I have been very lucky to have spent a decade working for two worthy non-profits. I’ve had amazing leadership and passion modeled by Ann, Heather, Shawn, Lewis. and many others. But I’m still trying to figure it all out.*
Trying to decide my career future in a mundane conversation at the end of a normal day, I said to Daniel “I don’t care about climbing the ladder. I don’t want to even be on the ladder.”
It was a second half of that statement that was an unexpectedly deep truth for me. “I don’t even want to be on the ladder.” Maybe that means I’m an entrepreneur at heart. Maybe it means I want to stay on the front lines working directly with clients and customers. Maybe it means I haven’t found the right ladder yet. Maybe it simply means I had a shitty day at work.
Whatever it ends up meaning in the long run, it’s real self-knowledge that I will not let go of.
At least for me, speaking my truth doesn’t always feel courageous. Sometimes it just falls out of my mouth (or fingers, as it were). Where I do need courage is sticking to it once I know what my truth or my desired reality is.
*I suspect that when I’m done with “trying to figure it all out” I’ll be dead. I’m fine with that. Hell, I’m excited by that. Life is a journey, etc.
I grew up in a family that watched the evening news every night. My childhood and teen years were accompanied by Tom Brokaw’s deep voice reporting on the last few years of The Troubles and the Good Friday Agreement. I became fascinated with Ireland and this conflict. I never felt I really understood it. Now I am only beginning to understand.
Today I visited Derry, a town west of Belfast. Standing in the Museum of Free Derry, I saw a TV screen with 2 old photos of little girls, Bernadette (9 years old) and Carol (4 years old) both with the last name McCool.
My paternal grandmother was a McCool. So naturally my curiosity was roused. Looking at the top of the screen, I saw that these were victims of the Troubles here in Derry. Was I (very distantly) related to victims of The Troubles? Where there other McCools who were lost in these events?
Curiosity tugging me forward, I touched the screen. Yes, their father Thomas McCool, also died. He was a father of five and a devoted Republican (completly unrelated with US Republicans, this means those in favor of a uniting what is now Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland).
and several others (including his two daughters) were killed “when
a bomb exploded prematurely while being prepared in his home.”
So…that bomb probably wasn’t being made without his knowledge. In all likelihood, he was making, or helping someone make, a bomb. As I dug further after visiting the museum I found he was indeed a member of the IRA.
Semantics and Perspectives
far do we extend the term “victim?” Those two girls were
certainly victims. Victims of the conflict? Victims of their father?
Was Thomas a victim of the conflict? Certainly not an innocent. But
with no conflict there would be no bomb-making in his home.
is listing him among victims truth or propaganda?
On a tour that morning I was told that Derry only had 12 members of the IRA before Bloody Sunday. On Oct 5, 1972 the local police attacked a peaceful civil rights demonstration. The protesters were inspired by the Civil Rights movement in the US and demonstrations in South Africa. The participants were asking that Catholics be given a fair chance at a job, given “one man, one vote,” and to end the gerrymandering by Protestants.
After 13 people were killed that day, the IRA’s numbers grew exponentially. “Everyone wanted to join the IRA,” said Kathleen Hutton. Her father was killed in this same explosion as the McCools, dying two weeks afterward.
Republicans (largely Catholic) were understandably angry and afraid of the Unionists (those who did not want Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland), Protestants, and British police and soldiers.
the story goes that while the IRA did some bad stuff, it was in
retaliation for excessive force by the local police (state-sponsored
Protestant and/or British-leaning men).
But Thomas McCool was killed in 1970, two years before Bloody Sunday.
No one is really arguing that The Troubles started with a stand-alone event. Tensions in this area go back hundreds of years. But when a tour guide tells us this information with a “they attacked us” undercurrent, it’s easy to pick a side. Without asking what the other side argues or reports. Such as why IRA members were making bombs in 1970.
It can not go without saying that this tour guide was the son of a man shot dead by the British police on Bloody Sunday in 1972. He was 7 months old when his father was shot in the back. The story of investigation, justice, and responsibility for this act (and the other 12 deaths that day) would go on for another 40 years.
the interesting part of this story is not whether I have any real
connection to this family. The interesting part is that this is one
of a thousand microcosms showing how complex this conflict is. Even
with my simplifications for length, clarity, and sheer ignorance.
There is your truth. There is my truth. What do we do when they are not the same truth?
No one I’ve talked to feels that the process is finished or wounds healed. There is faith that the next generation will get it right as the older generation steers them away from violence.
Want to know the story of the soldier who killed my tour guide’s
father? The story of how the town I visited is contentiously known as
both Derry and Londonderry? What is Free Derry free from? I have
only skimmed the surface of my (relatively scant) knowledge here. But
I don’t want to bore you.
When I conceived this trip I wanted to spend 6 months in Ireland. Turns out you can’t do that without being a student or some other special status, hence the impending move to Scotland.
So after three months in Dublin, I am headed to Northern Ireland and then Scotland shortly. I have spent the last three months absorbing everything I can about Ireland, its’ history, and its’ people. And I’ve learned a lot.
The word “Dublin” is descended from Duiblinn (“Black Pool”, referring to a dark tidal pool where the River Poddle entered the Liffey). In 841 the Vikings invaded and called it Dyflin. The city has survived the Black Death, multiple invasions from England, and the Great Famine.
It was also the setting of the 1916 Easter Uprising that ultimately lead to declaring freedom from Britain after 800 years of oppression.
Dublin sounds like seagulls, traffic, and haunting Irish ballads that spill out of the pubs at night. It smells like fish and chips and salty sea air. It tastes like an old favorite (Guinness) and a new favorite (gin and tonic). It looks like an old Georgian city that’s starting to live up to its potential in the Silicon Docks. And it feels just a bit like home.