The Journey


CURRENT BOOK:  Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I have been meaning to — well, I’m not sure if I want to say “wrap up” — this blog for a while, and I’m sorry I haven’t made time for it.  I am not sure exactly what I will do now that I have finished all of the books on The List.  I’m hoping to see things related to the books in the news and maybe have something to comment on, once in a while.  Perhaps I will read some other books related to the ones on The List.  But for now I am catching up on all the escapist fiction and grisly murder mysteries that I haven’t been reading for the last year.  As far as nonfiction and things that run deeper, I have been ready to take a break from those for a while.

I suppose it was a fitting end to my journey reading all of the books on The List, to read a book about a journey, while I was embarking on my own journey.

First, I have to gush that Ireland was amazing.  The amount my husband and I spent on the vacation was about what we expected and was within our means, and seems worthwhile since it was a trip of a lifetime for me.  It was his first time in Europe, and my first that I will be able to remember.  (My parents and I lived abroad when I was a baby, so I have been to many places but I couldn’t tell you anything about it except to show you a picture where I am in an infant carrier on my mother’s back).  When we discussed this with one of the bartenders, he asked us why we chose Ireland out of all the other places in Europe where we could have gone.  And I would say, why NOT choose Ireland?  But with my Irish ancestry, what we had heard about how beautiful the country is, how warm and welcoming the local people are, and that we didn’t have a language barrier, even in hindsight I do think it was a good choice.  We got to drive a pretty good loop around the country (despite my husband’s anxiety about driving on the other side of the road and navigating treacherous country lanes) and the scenery was incredible with dramatic cliffs, green pastures, majestic hills and mountains, quaint small towns, and cities built on rivers with footbridges.  The hotels selected by our tour company were lovely and were an excellent value.  We hardly had the same beer twice even though we limited ourselves to Irish non-stout beers that were available on tap, and they were all crisp and flavorful.  As far as the food, they are not kidding when they call it a “full” Irish breakfast, and they serve huge portions with potatoes on top of potatoes and on the side of everything, with fries thicker than an adult’s finger.  The time change actually didn’t affect me as much as when we went the other way to Hawaii (and my stylist who has also been in both directions said the same thing).  We did have a red-eye flight and slept on the plane there, since we knew we needed to so we could hit the ground running when we landed in Dublin.  The trip back did make for a very long day and we were dozing off in front of the television all weekend after we got home.  It hardly felt like the one day was my birthday except that I opened a few cards, but then again, I didn’t want the milestone to hit too hard.  Being on vacation for almost two weeks provided a huge buffer.

I did learn a little more about my family history and that some of my ancestors likely came from the most remote part of Ireland.  Although I did not have a chance to visit the particular county where the Irish branch of my family originated, it blows my mind to imagine a humble peasant seeing the same mountains and pastures and making the decision to leave it behind and seek opportunities in the United States.  My ancestor might have had to walk miles carrying just a few possessions, to the nearest very small town where transportation might have been available to one of the larger cities on a coast where my ancestor could obtain passage on a ship.  When my ancestor disembarked in New York City it must have seemed like it could not even have been part of the same world as rural Ireland.  Even to this day, the two places could not be more divergent.  To say that my ancestor must have been brave, is putting it mildly — and even children who emigrated with their parents without making decisions for themselves still had to be brave.  I am here where I am today due to the fact that someone several generations ago came to the United States from Ireland, and then that person — or one of his or her children — met someone in the United States and had a relationship which would not have happened back in Ireland, and that relationship produced a child, and that child eventually grew up and had a child, and so on, until my parents had me.  While this idea was always there in the back of my mind, going to Ireland and being near where my ancestors likely came from, has given me a much richer perspective.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I finished Wild on the plane between Chicago and Dublin, two days before my deadline.  I have read the book before and enjoyed both the book and the movie, and it inspired me to do some hiking of my own and made me want to see the parts of the country that Cheryl Strayed visited while she was on the Pacific Crest Trail.  She was perhaps a bit better prepared than I would be to “rough it” for an extended period, but not by much.  It amazes me that she made it, because I don’t think I would have.  Although she encounters many challenges and obstacles and it is not easy, she does learn along the way, and despite that she must modify her goals due to circumstances beyond her control, she does reach her goals in the end.  She begins her journey from a very dark place in her life, and the hiking trip is something that she wants to do to reset herself before she starts a new life that she hopes will put her in a better and happier place.  There have been dark times in my life when I wish I could have done something similar.  It’s a parallel to Eat, Pray, Love in that respect.

While my journey reading the books, and my journey to Ireland, did not necessarily put me in a better or happier place, at least not to the extent that Strayed’s journey did for her (unfortunately when I returned from Ireland I had to go right back to work the next day after traveling for almost 24 hours and landing in New Orleans at midnight), I do hope I am well poised to move on to the next phase of my life.  Maybe by having the good health I enjoy at the age of 40, by having steady work, and by being able to travel to Ireland since it’s quite possible that no one in my family before me was able to make the trip back to the homeland, I am living the life and enjoying the opportunities that the humble peasant who made a huge leap of faith and left Ireland, would have wanted his or her descendants to have, and may have left Ireland for that purpose.  As far as journeys go, I suppose that’s not a bad place to be.


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