I can still remember my first breath of Irish air. The morning was cool and crisp, sunlight just beginning to trickle over the rain soaked land. I could smell the sweet scent of fresh grass, rich earth and freshly turned soil. I remember feeling the sharp thrill of a journey, my eyes ever so ready to take in a new world. My first bus ride was a blur of foreign sights, fresh ideas and mesmerizing scenery. I felt—despite the jet lag—revived. I did not know where the journey would take me; I did not know what I would find. My first travels embedded a startling love of discover. My first breath of Irish air filled me with inspiration.
And then life set in. I remember slowly immersed myself in the culture and realizing that even though Ireland seemed different to me, this was still a home. People worked, shopped, schooled and relaxed. There were farms to tend, sheep to herd, shops to open and lives to live. Ireland went about its routine and slowly the fascination with every little thing faded from my perspective. By the end of the first month, I no longer needed to look up every bird I saw or every flower that bloomed. I already knew what they were. I no longer panicked when people drove on the left side of the road…that was where they were supposed to drive. I stopped wondering why the cars were parked on the sidewalk, I started calling the sidewalk a walk path and when someplace had good ‘craic’ (pronounced ‘crack’), I didn’t worry about the nature of the establishment. These weren’t strange things, they were everyday things. Things that didn’t confuse me; things that simply were.
Maybe it is because I am writing this in the Park Inn hotel across from Shannon airport, but I am filled with the strangest mixture of melancholy reminiscence and simmering panic. The majority of St. Scholastica’s students left for the States last Monday and I had the pleasure of enjoying Ireland for a while longer, but the time to leave has finally come and I just can’t quite seem to accept it. I knew that I would have to become attached to this place; how could I not after living here for almost four months? What I did not expect was the depth of the feeling of loss. Perhaps I will return to Ireland someday, but this experience was a once in a lifetime kind of deal. I made wonderful friends with the students and while I will see them in the States, our journey in Ireland has come to an end. It is a strange and sad thought.
Of course, it’s never really the end. It’s just a new turn in life’s journey. Tomorrow I will be back in Minnesota and I know that it will feel like home. The Ireland experience will have taught me new lessons and the memories I will carry forever, through my travels and over countless new paths. Regardless of where you are, somewhere is always waiting. No matter what you’re doing, there is always so much within walking distance.
Note: To the northern border of a wild country: Ireland is in Walking Distance continues on the rugged landscape of the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes...