1. a gesture or action used to convey information or instructions.
2. an object, quality or event whose occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something else. For example, “SHUT UP, the Universe is trying to talk to you”!
The Irish are well known for their sense of humour. It is quick, dry, self-deprecating and often very dark. And I love it! Their turn of phrase, combined with that charming lilt, somehow makes even the most horrible insult sound appealing. Dad wrote; “One of the few times I let my attention lag with respect to rates of exchange I was cheated. I took the bike into a shop to get a new seat bolt. One bolt should be about $0.15, but the purveyor charged me 50 pence, which is about $1.30. I was down the street about 3 blocks before I realized and boy was I ticked off! I went back and he said ‘Well lad, don’t ya know it was for the trouble now’. That was bullshit, but it’s too difficult to get angry at someone who speaks the Blarney so well. Lesson learned”!
I stayed for 2 nights in Galway at the Hillside B&B with the most endearing grandmother/guestmaster, Maura. She was exactly what I needed at that point on the journey. There were doilies and tea and grandmotherly ‘oohs and ahhs’ as I told her of my adventure, and it was all served up with a delicious full Irish breakfast. I asked her on the morning I was set to head out if she’d heard the weather forecast. She got quite flummoxed and bit her knuckles and said “Oh God Maura, you should know this! Now you heard it this morning. What was it? You know dear, I can’t remember it exactly, but I don’t remember being offended by it”! That might be the best weather descriptor I’ve ever heard! I plan on using that phrase liberally upon my return to Canada; “it’s -20, but it’s not offensive”!
I set out from Maura’s, armed with a little lunch she’d packed me, headed for the “Badlands” of County Clare. I had met a fella, Paul, out on the Aran Islands who invited me to a music party at his thatched cottage, should I happen to be in this particular part of the world. Music party? Thatched cottage? Are you kidding me? Of course I’m there!! Now the Irish sense of humour extends beyond jokes at the pub and heads directly for their street signs. Of which there are few. And most of them are lies. I’m headed for a tiny, semi-non-existent place called Flagmount, which is on the way to Feakle. (See, I told you the Irish have a good sense of humour)! I stop a few hours later in Gort to buy a bottle of wine so as not to arrive empty handed. It’s around this point that the fog of ‘where the hell am I’ starts to set in. Eventually road signs cease to exist and after about 45 minutes of riding alone without having seen another soul, I come upon a house with a gentleman in the driveway. I ask him if he can point me in the direction of Flagmount. He says the following:
“Well of course. Now, you go down the road there. Then up. Then down. Then up again. Followed by down. Then you’ll go around. There’ll be a house on your right hand side. That was owned by Mrs. Kennedy. Her son lives there now. Lovely boy. She’s not doing well. She’ll not be long for this world. Ignore that house. Keep going. You’ll go up again. Then around. Then a long up. Then a short down. Then you’ll see a house on your left hand side. Keep going. Then another hill. Then a house on your left again. It’s right at the T-junction. Well it’s not a proper T, it’s more like a drunk T on a jaunty angle. There’s an old man that lives in that house. His door is always open. Go up to his door and yell in, he’ll come out and give you the directions the rest of the way from there.”
Needless to say it was an exercise in hilarious frustration as I tried to decipher whether I was on the long up or the short down at any given moment. Eventually, with much Irish luck, I found the thatched cottage and a house full of about 50 people in the literal middle of nowhere. Paul is one of those people who has the ability to befriend anyone almost instantly. He, and his circle of friends, are simply lovely. Now when he said this would be a music party, I was envisioning a fiddle, a tin whistle and a pair of spoons. Uh uh. They were professional musicians and old school rockers with full sound equipment, a giant spread of stews and salads and drinks and tons of laughter and interesting conversation. One of those moments where you look around and think, ‘how the heck did I get here and how bloody lucky am I’? In moments like this I am reminded of the golden rule of improv comedy – always say YES, for ‘yes’ leads to great and unexpected pleasures. The party and the people fill my cup and eventually I tuck myself into bed in the recording studio situated at one end of this eclectic home, with a thatched roof over my head and a stand-up bass at my side. Tonight was a good night.
Before I leave the next day I make the mistake of asking for more directions. And I am given what every Irish person in the room believes is a very clear map….drawn on a paper plate. It is without street names or distances, but is instead a series of arrows and molehills and happy faces. Jesus Mary and Joseph, I’ll be lost in the Badlands forever! Dad wrote: “The mileage signs are funny here. I passed two signs about a mile and a half apart, that both said ‘9 miles to Listowel’ and before both of them a farmer told me it was 7 miles. I finally made it however, but it seemed more like 15!” Ah, the Irish sense of humour hard at work!
This day of cycling seems to last forever. The rain moves in and out like an unwelcome roommate, the poor signage loses its charm when I end up stuck on a motorway, my legs are exhausted, my spirit is sagging and I’m suddenly feeling very lonely. And I shouldn’t be as I’ve just spent an evening breaking bread with new friends, but nonetheless, I can’t deny that I feel the pangs of homesickness.
Dad wrote: “The sea truly does hold a fascination for me and I am looking forward to getting back to it both for itself and because it represents the start of the last leg of the journey. This latter feeling requires some explanation because it does have meaning beyond the superficial one that I am not enjoying myself. In point of fact, I am enjoying the trip in several ways; as a good time, as an experience, as a challenge. It is good to taste what others have to offer, and I have, but the old tastes are still the best and I miss them and the faces. I would like to come back and see more but I will nonetheless be glad to be going home. This is a good way, and sometimes it is called for, but it’s also a lonely way”.
I have found it strange, on this trek, how often my own internal journey has mirrored my fathers. I didn’t have any expectations to that end, and I don’t think I’ve forced the parallels. I certainly haven’t been cognisant of doing so. It is comforting to me, however, on a few different levels. I’ve always ‘gotten’ my dad. And I believe he always ‘got’ me. I’ve been missing that in my life since his passing. I am very blessed to have many dear friends and family with whom I am immensely close. But even in that, I have felt the loss of being completely ‘gotten’. If we’re lucky in life, there will be a handful of people who really, truly ‘get’ us. ‘Getting’ someone involves a different type of intimacy. It’s like somehow you’ve been carved out of the same piece of kindred cloth. Your soul is at rest in their presence. You feel understood without having to say a word. Your jokes are hilarious to each other and yet neither of you ever uttered a punch line. I had that with my dad when he was alive. And I have it right now, in his passing. Because I have pedaled in his same literal and metaphorical footsteps. I didn’t know him when he was 26 years old. And at that time he couldn’t have even imagined that one day he’d create and know me. Yet here I am, revisiting his experience, filtering it through my own, and I’m getting to know him deeper as a man, even in his death. And somehow in deepening my understanding of him, I am learning so much about myself. And for a minute, I feel again, like someone truly ‘gets’ me.
I rode today thinking about the concept of ‘homesickness’. I think I’ve been homesick for a long time. But what happens when ‘home’ doesn’t really exist anymore. Then what, exactly, is it that you are homesick for? None of the clichés seem to fix it for me. Home is where the heart is, blah blah blah. I think home is a state of being. It’s fleeting. It’s a chameleon. Perhaps home is just the memory or pursuit of that perfect alchemy that existed only for a moment in the first place. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that I’m longing for, it’s a feeling, or an innocence or a….something. It’s like being at Girl Guide camp and desperately wanting to go home, but now, there’s no one there on the other end to pick up the phone. I don’t know who to call to pick me up anymore. But I do know that I want to get over this feeling of homesickness. I don’t want to live in constant pursuit of a place that only exists in my memory or imagination. It’s time to let go and in the process, redefine the concept of ‘home’.
10 long hours later, I am passing those same ‘9 miles to Listowel” road signs that my dad had written about. They’re still there and they’re still lying; it definitely feels like 15. I feel elated to see evidence of the actual town up ahead. Signs are funny. We get them all the time in life, but sometimes we ignore them and stay the course, even against our own better judgement. I’ve had distinct moments in life where the voice on my internal GPS is calmly saying in her British accent, “when possible, make a legal U-turn”. And yet, I forge ahead, telling her to “shut up, I have mistakes yet to make”! I am grateful for those times when I didn’t heed the road signs from the Universe, because they have all led me here, to this long Irish road. I believe it was a sign that I found my dad’s journals in my darkest days. And I’m glad I listened to the message in their discovery. And now I vow to turn the volume up on my gut. I shall listen better and heed the signs, not because I’m afraid of getting hurt again or because I don’t want to make any more mistakes, but because I don’t want to miss the path of my life. I’m setting my GPS to “YES LIFE I AM HERE”! And so, onward we pedal, armed with a sense of humour because after all, we’ve an Irish ‘9 miles’ yet to go!