I set foot in Ireland a sick man. Some ten hours earlier, I tearfully embraced my fiancée at the entrance of the security checkpoint at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. My heart remained heavy as I passed through Chicago, and the flu bug I had been battling grew bolder still. I coughed violently and my stomach churned, I zipped my fleece jacket flush against my chin. My throat ached. Somewhere over the Atlantic ocean I fainted, 40,000 feet in the air.
Ireland is the kind of place that heals you. She gathers you in her neighborly embrace, sets you down in a corner pub, fills your belly with beef & potato stew (and beer), and keeps you in the good company of your brother and your father. Well, in my case, anyway. When my brother moved to Dublin to study medicine, I hoped to visit him when given the chance. A few months later when I decided to leave my job and seek a new path, it only seemed natural. My dad, who lives in Greece and is unafraid of calling himself a nomad, joined without hesitation. And that is how a Greek father, his American son, and his surrogate-Irish son found themselves reunited on the banks of the River Liffey.
We walked, walked, walked. It is my preferred method of exploring a new place, and my dad's too—despite a hairline ankle fracture that kept us walking to a beat much slower than the local one. What we found was a vibrant place full of youthful faces, singing voices, and colorful doorways. We looked both ways before crossing the street, dodging traffic patterns that seemed all sorts of backwards to us. We dodged raindrops too, for the ever awake & alive city of Dublin lies in wait beneath a sleepy sky, blanketed with low-flying and well-saturated clouds, ready to burst at any time. Ireland's unpredictable weather gave us plenty time to catch up in conversation, to talk history & politics, to reminisce about the past, to eat & drink. It gave us a chance to seat ourselves among the crowds of Irishmen gathered to watch the World Cup of Rugby in pubs across Dublin on weekday afternoons. And when the rain relented and the clouds retreated, we ventured into the countryside.
Oh, the lush, lumpy and impossibly green Irish countryside. How I adored you and your vast flocks of sheep, your hulking beef cows, your age-old stone walls and castles. It was you who truly healed me. Your rolling pasture and bog; the lunar landscape in The Burren; the noble Cliffs of Moher, looming above the Atlantic Ocean in quiet splendor; the "Valley of Two Lakes" at Glendalough. It was you who confirmed in my soul an appreciation for rural earthscapes more heartfelt than any feeling that a city could inspire within me. My experiences with you were brief, but it is for you that I long to return to Ireland.
It is for my brother, too, that I long to return. During the past few years, I have learned what it means to have family spread out; to have great distances separating you from your loved ones. As I write this, I myself have chosen to spend time living away from the place that I have known to be home for all of my life. I wouldn't hesitate to say that my brother instilled in me some of the courage to make such a move of my own. Now, we find ourselves in beautiful & inspiring places where we can grow and learn. I, in Vermont; my brother, in Ireland; my dad, in Greece. It is not always easy, but it is reality. So, when we do reunite—and it is impossible to know where that may happen next—it is ever so sweet. It is savored, like a hot stew on a damp & chilly evening in Dublin; like fresh souvlaki at a Greek taverna on a mid-summer night; like warm oatmeal drizzled with maple syrup at the dawn of a frosty Vermont morning, before heading to the farm.
It is miraculous to learn of all the places in the world that you can find the familiar, the beloved. For me, Ireland is one of those places.
(Ah, speaking of familiar: Guinness tastes the same there.)