My Irish Relations

I don’t know why I love the Irish. Maybe it’s because I halfway belong to them on my mother’s side.

I snapped this pic from the train to Belfast from Dublin this summer. The countryside is so delicious.
I snapped this pic from the train to Belfast from Dublin this summer. The Irish countryside is so delicious.

But I also belong, halfway, to my father’s Scandinavian side. And the two sides of me are occasionally in conflict. But there is one thing they agree upon. Traveling expands you. My people are a traveling people. My ancestors set sail and did not look back.

In the U.S. most of us are halfway something. And even if we came from this soil, this fertile soil of America, we too, are nomads. Travelers.

So, too, are our relations – the gazelles leaping across the Serengeti or the Monarch butterflies flitting towards Mexico. All of us belong to a branch of the biological family that is on the move.

And we do not necessarily travel fast. Consider the sloth. They are part of our family too. And I don’t want to stretch this metaphor until it snaps back on me, but my husband who has Parkinson’s is a bit on the sloth spectrum. Yet he hangs on to the family tree. And still, he travels. (Heading to Florida for a month and a half to direct a play.)

Still on the go.

The difference between us and our biological family is that when we return from our distant adventures – down the branch of the tree or across the vast plain or swamp or ocean – when we return from our journeys — we tell the tale. We huddle around the campfire, the Sunday dinner, the AA meeting, the bar, the water cooler, the back of the bus. And we regale our friends and family with stories of our successes and failures. We make something out of an ineffable nothing — that place that only resides in our memories — our distant homeland, our Ireland, our watering hole, our home.

And that is why I love to travel. And I believe it comes from both the Irish and the Scandinavian. It is not that I love the journey — the uncertainty of where I’m going. But it is that I love to return and tell the tale.

So today, look up from your computer, glance into the eyes of your officemate, your lover, your daughter, your spouse. Ask:

Where have you been? Where are you going? When you return, will you tell me all about it? And then that place — your place, your story — will live in my memory, as a story, too.

The Spiritual Path

image
I walked at the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Very pretty.

At the airport  gate, I chatted with an older woman who had just walked the Camino in Spain. I’m not really sure where the Camino is. I’m too jetlagged from my Ireland trip to google it. But I think it’s a pilgrimage following in the footsteps of some beloved saint.

The 70ish woman carried only a small backpack. Her feet were tired she said but her boots were sturdy. She lifted a boot to show me.

“Nice,” I said although they were just plain old hiking shoes, not attractive at all. I guess hiking boots are not supposed to be attractive. “They look functional.”

“Some people do hike the Camino in sneakers, but I think you need these.”

“I am going to do that – a spiritual journey,” I nodded.

“Any walk can be a spiritual walk,” she said. “Like you told me you’re from New York. You could walk the Hudson River?”

“Really?” I said. “What’s spiritual about the Hudson?”

“I don’t know. Maybe do Vermont then,” she said.

image
This is a path Dan Wakefield and I walked at the Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat in Pennsylvania.

I am attracted to the idea of long walks like the Camino, wherever that is, or the Appalachian Trail. Yes, the AT’s cool. You start in the spring in the south and end in the fall in New England. But do you sleep in a cozy bed? I don’t think so. I love a bed and breakfast where someone – not me – makes me coffee.

Maybe I should consider the wise woman’s advice and see the Hudson as a spiritual path. I could blog about it. I might call the new blog, Hiking the Hudson, A Spiritual Journey. Oh, I like the sound of that. The Hudson is beautiful in the fall. Maybe I’ll do the hike this fall when my darlings go back to school.

Wait. The Hudson is too ordinary. I want to do an extraordinary hike — Mount Kilimanjaro or K2 — a climb that will make me famous. Or at least make me feel alive. I might encounter rattlesnakes, freeze to death, stare down a wild boar. But will I sleep in a soft place? I don’t think so. Maybe I should stick with the Hudson and then I can head home every night to my cozy bed on the Upper West Side.

Maybe every walk can be a spiritual walk, just like the elder pilgrim said. Every journey can spark lofty thoughts, philosophical ponderings and celebrations of God.

I believe God is found in nature and in chance encounters on the daily  journey. Maybe God even resides in the ordinary river that I pass every day.

Maybe I don’t have to make a pilgrimage to some distant land and blog about it to find my spiritual path.

I wrote this post at the Ecumenical Library lunchtime writing group at the Interchurch Center led by Tracey Del Duca. The next God Box writing group meets on Aug. 10 and 24.