Sea-soaked air settled into my lungs as I disembarked my bus to the unfamiliar din of chatter; I am definitely not in Kansas anymore. Groan-worthy clichés aside, Cork – Ireland’s second-largest city at 119,230 residents – is more densely inhabited than any town in which I have resided for the better part of the last eight years. Community is life water but the depth of this pool was daunting; I couldn’t wait to dive in!
Seven years ago, holding in high esteem the notion that one should “bloom where you are planted,” my sense of purpose took root in the rich complexity of public service. I had always been acutely aware of my role in my community; I was not conscious of how closely it was tied to my sense of identity. Upon moving to Ireland, harder to escape than excitement at the novelty of public transportation was the feeling that I was an uprooted, invasive species. A mere month in, coffee with a professor to discuss coursework took an emotional turn when I admitted that my newfound lack of responsibility was unsettling. “I am just a directionless tumbleweed,” I muttered into my latte. My professor laughed. Leaning across the table, he asked, “Why does that have to be a bad thing? Be the tree; bow and bend with what comes.” His words reminded me of the Shaker folk song, “Simple Gifts” to which Irish singer, Nóirín Ní Riain serenaded the Mitchells on our trip to Glenstal Abbey:
It’s a gift to be simple, it’s a gift to be free
it’s a gift to come down where you ought to be
When true simplicity is gained
to bow and to bend we will not be ashamed
to turn, turn will be our delight
’til by turning, turning we come round right
Simplicity has never been my forte – not exactly a unique trait within the Mitchell community. The tears shed at the end of Nóirín’s blessing provided reassurance I am not alone in my search for peace in our Irish adventure. Perhaps it is for precisely this reason that I and the other Mitchells are drawn here. To paraphrase my Irish friends and classmates, Ireland is a country of people with intimate knowledge of the healing properties contained in a cup of tea and a long walk. They understand that, too often, we manage to make life unnecessarily complicated.
In time, I have begun to welcome all that I initially found to be overwhelming. I have also realized that aspects of my former life– the unassuming kindness of individuals, a stark sense of community, political immediacy – are alive and well here. Nothing more effectively captures this than my first half-hour on the Island: Distracted by the sea air (or because I had not slept for 48 hours), I managed to leave my wallet on the bus from the airport. I discovered my mistake as I went to pay Henry, the taxi driver who had brought me to my residence. Teary-eyed and irate with myself, I took down his contact information with a promise to pay as soon as I had recovered my wallet. A week later, I called Henry to ask for the best way to remit payment to which he responded, “Take two of your friends out for drinks on me this evening.” What could be more simple than that?
Ireland, I accept your charge to live life awash with the peace of simplicity. I will say “yes” to a night in the city to celebrate a culture I already feel changing me. I will go on long runs for the scenery, not the time logged at the end; I will do front handsprings along the Cliffs of Moher just to feel the sea air hit my face in a new way and, with every cleansing breath, I will remind myself that this year is a gift.