Notes from a Stone House in Ahiohill
We’ve been in Ireland now for two weeks (or is it more?). A few days were spent in bleak, rainy Dublin. If you’ve ever been to Dublin, you might understand why I felt slighted and a bit disappointed after arriving. Being part Irish (isn’t everyone?), I had longed to go. There’s a brand of romantic magic associated with Ireland and it’s people, and I smelled not a whiff of it in Dublin. It wasn’t until we boarded the bus to Cork that I began to take heart again. As I looked out the window, through the rain, I saw shimmering, at times unearthly, greens smiling back from the landscape. “The Emerald Isle…I get it now,” I said to myself.
We’re staying with an Irish family in a big old stone house on a hill near the coast. We spend our days picking produce from the garden and pushing back against nature on the three acres surrounding the house, which includes a patch of forest. From my bedroom window I can see cows.
Nights are spent in front of the fire (yes, while the US experiences a heatwave, Ireland is in the peak of summer, where 60 degrees and sunny warrants shorts and T-shirts, and releases you from whatever thing it is that has to get done just so you can run out and have the sunlight touch your skin — quick, before it’s gone). Tina is a writer and her partner John is a blues musician, giving the house a wonderfully creative undercurrent. Books occupy the hallways and are stacked in corners and on tables. Music streams through the house and out the windows into the nature beyond. John’s bandmate, Rob, a 24 year old with a gravelly voice capable of being utterly heartbreaking, also lives here. It’s an environment that innately nurtures creativity, and has my brain working on a plane of proficiency I haven’t experienced in a long, long time.
Tina, being a writer, always has a great story at the ready. While doing dishes one morning, Tina and I started talking about my reasons for taking this trip. I told her of my life before, and how I wanted a change. We then got on the topic of happiness. I told her that whenever there is a dandelion to be blown or a statue to be rubbed and wish to be cast, I make the same simple wish I’ve always made: “To be happy.” Instead of wishing for good health or tickets to that concert or a new car, I wished for happiness. It was both modest and all-encompassing at the same time.
Tina then told me the following story.
“You’ve heard of the Irish travelers? A bit like gypsies, they’re groups that have traveled and lived off the land since the famine. There’s a local traveler woman with five kids. She always manages to provide for her family, feed and clothe them, with things she manages herself and with the help of friends. Her only constant concern is having socks for the children. She doesn’t often run into them and people typically didn’t hand down socks. So she decided to pray. She prayed that she would be able to cover her kids’ feet. The next day a man came in a truck with a huge bag. ‘Mam, I’m not sure if these are of any use to you, but if you want em, you can have em,’ and he handed her the bag. Inside was a mass of socks. She thanked the man, and then thanked God for answering her prayer. She gathered all the kids around to go through them, pairing them up, and in that entire big bag no two socks were alike.”
I stood for a while, and then understood. Specificity is key. It isn’t good enough to wish for happiness. You must be specific in what your definition of happiness is if you want to actually get there.
After days of raking grass or picking peas, I find myself thinking a lot about the future and my definition of happiness. I’ve come to realize it’s much different than it was just six months ago. Back then, I had an idea of what happiness (and other things tied up with it, like success, for example) was. Now I know. (And I don’t mean small things like puppies and tacos — don’t get me wrong, I can and have waxed poetic about both of these things. What I mean is a greater sense of happiness — that calmness that can fill your chest with warmth heavy like honey.) I know I owe this realization to the last six months on the road, and to my time in West Cork.
Ireland has always seduced me. Being here I can now say that this land has a magnetism I’ve never before experienced. It’s almost as if this trip was begun with Ireland at its center, and without realizing, I followed the siren call. This picturesque island knowingly pulled me through the past six months until I wound up on its shores. And while I know we’re set to leave it in a month, I also know without a doubt that I’ll be back. I’m not sure when, but I have a feeling I’ll be a little older and a lot happier.