1. Patiently, hopefully, work toward your dreams.
As a young girl I dreamt of Ireland. My grandfather taught us traditional Irish songs, and constantly had them playing at his home. I collected shamrocks, watched Irish films, and hosted St. Patrick’s Day parties every year. I loved the history, the people, the music, and I longed to go. I always daydreamed of someday, but never thought about it becoming a concrete reality. One day I had an epiphany. If I don’t plan a trip right now, I might never go. I didn’t want my someday to turn into an “I wish I would have”. Looking over my schedule, my bank account, and my vacation days, it seemed like an impossibility. Yet I began to plan. I began to save. I was able to plan a trip a year in advance and save enough money to cover my expenses. Through all this I learned that just because your dreams are difficult, doesn’t make them impossible. Just because you can’t have your dream right now, doesn’t mean you can’t have it. From realizing this life-long dream, I have been given the courage to pursue other dreams … one step at a time.
2. Don’t be afraid to go it alone.
Henry David Thoreau once said, “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude”. I learned this first-hand when I visited the Emerald Isle. I had planned to take my trip with friends, and one by one, things came up and they were unable to go. Of course, I missed having their company, but in hindsight I am so grateful to have journeyed alone. I was forced to explore, to ask for help, to sit quietly and to think. I was free to process through new experiences without hindrance. I was blown away by the gift of pondering — filing away these new sights, sounds, and feelings deep in my heart and mind. Since that trip, I have gone on other adventures by myself. Some small, some bigger. I love people and believe that friendship is one of life’s most valuable gifts, but I also have learned that practicing solitude from time to time adds weight and value to my life.
3. Wander slowly.
Living in Los Angeles I became accustomed to driving everywhere, even to the grocery store a few blocks away. In Ireland, cars drive on the opposite side of the road. I am uncoordinated enough as it is, and with the addition of an unfamiliar environment there was no way I was ready to attempt that. For this reason I found myself getting around other ways. I travelled by bus and train, but primarily on foot. Travel took longer, but it was more peaceful. I didn’t have the anxiety of watching the road, thinking about where to turn next, etc. If I had driven instead of walked, I never would have found Cork Coffee Roasters, home of the best almond croissant I have ever tasted, or wandered into that hole-in-the wall bookshop in Dublin. I may never have noticed the fields full of more shades of green than I had ever seen. Getting into the habit of wandering slowly has been a lesson I will take with me for the rest of my life.
Something that is written all over the lives of the Irish is that the most convenient way isn’t always the most valuable way.
4. Be present.
Before my trip, I found out that international mobile phone plans are expensive. I bought a small package in case of emergencies, but for the most part I was without phone calls and texts. Most places I visited (even the coffee shops…gasp!) didn’t have wifi, so I was able to check my email only now and then. There were no hour-long binges on social media, or randomly chasing a Google/Wikipedia trail of useless information, per my usual habit. Instead I was forced to sit. Breathe. Read. Have conversations with locals. I found one learns a lot from sitting and looking out a window. Since I’ve come back I haven’t been as attached to my phone or laptop, but more interested in what is happening in my current location. Something that is written all over the lives of the Irish is that the most convenient way isn’t always the most valuable way. Life riddled with distraction isn’t full, abundant life.
5. There are no people like the people of Ireland.
Though I went alone, I found friends wherever I was. Cab drivers, fellow bus passengers, baristas. I experienced everything from getting a play-by-play recap of the all-Ireland championship football game, to being invited to a discussion at someone’s home on arts and culture. Warm smiles. Warm handshakes. Warm hearts. The stories about the story-telling are true. There was kindness, politeness, humor, and always a sparkle in the eye when they spoke of Ireland. Even their manner of speaking is lyrical. The colorful language, and lilt in their voices can make hearing directions to the train station the most exciting part of your morning. The chill and dreariness of Irish winters shows no evidence of penetrating the hearts of the people. There really is magic there, and I can’t wait to go back.
Sweet Shop image courtesy of Abigail Atchison