A year ago today, I did a lot of internal screaming.
I was nearing Ireland–Ireland!!!–after a red-eye flight across the Atlantic. A few details stand out about that flight–watching The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for one; the mug of Earl Grey at 2 AM EST as we neared Dublin, for another; the fact that I was so cold I snuggled all the way under the complementary blanket and put the complementary socks on my hands. Hey, flying first class definitely had its perks. (If you’re reading this–thanks again for those tickets, Uncle David! You’re the absolute best!)
The day before, I had hugged my family goodbye and hopped on the plane to Dublin: my first time leaving the country, and I was headed out for a solid four months. Go big or go home, right?
I spent the hour before I left the Philadelphia airport doodling on a new notebook, twisting words and images in my head until they unfolded in a way that matched my hopes for this first trip abroad. I outlined my design, hoping I would (for once) be consistent in journaling.
Still, there are scattered notes in there–references to “the time I (literally) set foot in the Irish Sea,” doodles of Howth, ticket stubs–metro, plane, bus–and a five cent piece, grocery lists, travel budgets, flight schedules, notes from Christian Union meetings or Sunday sermons. In any case, I was rather proud of my design: I’d seen the quote a few weeks prior while we were in Seattle, and I’d wanted it on a notebook of my own ever since. This seemed the perfect opportunity to use it.
My second weekend in Dublin ended up as a daytrip to Howth, where–between walking the piers and finding the cliffs–my new friends and I lazed around on top of the hills for a while, talking about our experience in Ireland so far, or our lives back at home, or dozing. I wrote about it the odd sense of familiarity that Ireland instilled in us the next day:
Tyler and I were talking about it yesterday, how Ireland doesn’t feel “foreign.” It feels quite normal, quite natural–quite like I’ve lived here my whole life, really.
It’s been one year since I left on this grand adventure, and I still don’t have the proper words for it. I sort of wonder if I ever will. I still talk about it all the time, even if not on purpose. I still cry over it sometimes, just a little. Coming home was lovely–I really had missed Philadelphia and all the people that go with it quite a lot, especially the last month or so–but oh, I don’t think my heart ever really left that island. We leave pieces of us in the places we live, however briefly, and there’s something so incredibly beautiful about the fact that we don’t have to have a single, solitary home; we can belong anywhere, we can belong everywhere. A bit of my heart will always be somewhere between Dame Street and that cliff walk on Howth, and I am grateful for that.
There’s something about travel that cuts out the unnecessary, leaves playacting and shallowness behind. The friendships I formed in Ireland are ones I fully intend to keep for the rest of my life–and not just because I plan on kidnapping Lis and using her car for road trips. These people knew me in a context completely and utterly unique, in a space that allowed us to be genuine in a way that, somehow, our regular college lives just… didn’t. They knew me as the slightly travel-crazed girl named Connor that liked hiking and reading and was always saying guys, I just really love food.
Hey. If you’d seen the sort of things I got to eat, you would’ve been excited, too.
We turned to each other frequently over the months, my American friends and I. We looked at each other with a specific sort of smile that reached our eyes long before it reached our lips as we said hey, guys–guys. We’re in Ireland. That smile meant hey, take a minute. Look at where we are. Look at what we’re doing. This small, ordinary moment is something absolutely extraordinary because of this one detail. And sometimes it wasn’t a small, ordinary moment. Sometimes it was a big thing, something you couldn’t do anywhere else. At all. Ever. No way.
After all, the Cliffs of Moher are only in… well, County Clare. They just don’t exist anywhere else. And same goes for that cliffside hike at the Giants Causeway. There’s only one Giants Causeway, and it’s in Northern Ireland. You aren’t going to find something like it anywhere else in the world.
I’ve been wondering lately if the reason I felt more myself in Ireland is because I truly lived in the moment. I spend so much of my energy thinking about the future–planning, worrying, imagining, dreaming–and I get wrapped up in my own head pretty quickly. Moving to Ireland for four months meant getting out of my head, going out of my way to explore a new city, a new country, and, really, a new continent.
It’s not that Philadelphia is bad at those things–it’s that the ordinary needs the extraordinary to liven it up occasionally, just as the extraordinary needs the ordinary to tone it down when things get too overwhelming.
I still don’t know exactly what I learned from my time overseas. I don’t know exactly how I changed. I don’t know exactly what shifted internally to make me feel so full of clarity and peace. I don’t know if I’ll still be talking about my trip like it was yesterday in a year or two, or if I’ll slack off gradually until I visit Ireland again.
And I still don’t know how a country I’d never seen before managed to captivate my heart so utterly and completely within my first four hours of walking around.
I don’t know if Ireland got to me because it is the first and last place I’ve had my passport stamped. I don’t know if it got to me because the people welcomed me in like family, or if it was because I had friends there who already were like family. I don’t know if Ireland’s stuck with me because of the sheer amount of awe it inspired, or the delicious food I consumed, or because I frequented the Dublin airport as many times in four months as I have the Philadelphia airport in the past four years.
I don’t know if it was the friendships I sank into with such ease, or the trips we took together, or even the scattered meals we made of veggie burgers topped with goat cheese and mushrooms cooked in a balsamic reduction. I don’t know if it got to me because of the adventures, or if the adventures got to me because it was Ireland.
The last journal entry is dated 21 December 2013, the day I flew back to Philadelphia:
How strange to think of all these pages held a mere four months ago–not words, maybe, but hopes and dreams. Possibilities. Potential. That’s what these pages held.
And now, on the flight headed home… well, now they hold other things. Memory. Laughter. Travel logs. Essay notes. All of that, and hopefully a bit of wisdom. Definitely experience.
I wish–just a bit, not too much–that I could say I know what I learned here… I am too close to the matter, temporally speaking. Time will tell, I’m sure, and I look forward to discovering just how this semester has shaped me. I feel vaguely as if I am a truer me–more me, myself, than I ever have been before, that this trip has honed me down a bit to my true form.
I still don’t know if what got to me was the travel, the friends, the new places–the adventures, the sites, the sheer amount of fun we had or places we went. I don’t know how soon I’ll be able to get back, or the next time I’ll doodle a suitcase on my notebook or have the presence of mind to pray that I will enjoy every. single. second or appreciate every single day or remember to explore every single weekend.
What I do know is this: it’s been eight months since I left, but I still call it home.