(The End but also The Beginning)
A tsunami of joy washed over me as I walked up to the rental desk and handed in my car key. It was a delicious feeling of freedom, as palpable as any escape from prison, I suspect.
The gentleman on duty cast a swift glance over Clio’s body and matter-of-factly assessed the damage: one dislodged side strip, one missing hubcap. He was unfazed by the booboos. My out-of-pocket cost? Fifty dollars! As I reached into my wallet to pay the piper he said casually, like he was reporting the weather, that I had gotten off easy, that I would not BELIEVE the cars coming back and the extent of their damage.
I was stunned.
Our flight to the States waited on the tarmac as we crowded onto a transport wagon to take us from the terminal to the plane. Hesitantly, people began talking about their trips in hushed voices. A trickle then a tidal wave of stories emerged, recounting the various driving nightmares that had been encountered. All along, I thought it was just me, that I was a bad driver, inadequate, easily spooked, a silly young woman ill-prepared, but all these people, including grown men, as if in confessional, unburdened themselves of their shame, anxiety, trauma, and embarrassment. I boarded the plane marveling at my good fortune: my experiences had not been so bad after all!
Touring Ireland taught me so much. To confront fear, refuse to give up, enjoy the unexpected gifts that appear along the way, and trust that we can make it through anything unscathed, even if slightly ego-battered, to tell the tale.
This was one of the greatest lessons of my life.
Without further fiasco I pulled into Mrs. O’Shea’s establishment around dinnertime. I was nauseous from the emotional stress of the accidents and exhausted from the intense concentration driving demanded. As my shaky legs stepped out of the car, I noticed to my rekindled chagrin that the left side mirror was folded back. It must have happened when it kissed the angel lady’s mirror. Fortunately, it was easily snapped into its original position. At least that was one blessing this brand-new car could bestow! Scared to risk further inspection but compelled to do so, I discovered I was missing a rear hubcap, as well.
WHAT? How had THAT happened?
In a flash, my intuition presented me with a cellular memory I had not consciously registered at the time of occurrence: what seemed a lifetime ago but happened only earlier that day. While driving from Limerick to Adare on another narrow winding country path, I now recall that oncoming truck lumbering toward me at breakneck speed smack in the center of the no-room-for-both-of-us road! I leaned into the shoulder as closely as I could to avert collision. But there was no shoulder to lean on. Just a bunch of rocks. The puzzle piece clicked into place. I am certain that was the moment Clio’s hubcap ran away from home.
This inauspicious day transitioned to a restless night of bad dreams and cold sweats. I was still nauseous at breakfast the next morning. Terror continued to squeeze my intestines like a vise. But I decided I would continue my trip and not call it quits. At least not yet.
Unaware of yesterday’s trauma, my chatty hostess suggested I take a lovely drive through Conor Pass on my way to Dingle. It was the highest mountain pass in Ireland. Sure enough, it could be challenging, but Irish luck was smiling upon us, a clear day was dawning, and the views would be spectacular.
I thanked her for the wonderful idea but repelled it with an inner tremor.
I made a brief stop in town to visit the Tralee Museum before resuming my itinerary. The sun was shining brilliantly now; its warm, friendly companionship reassuring me all was well. My spirits were buoyed.
Maybe I should try Conor Pass? I remained noncommittal and decided I would decide upon reaching the proverbial fork in the road.
The Sign came into view. Without hesitation I turned onto the exit ramp to follow the arrow. No way could I allow fear to prevent me from experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Even the warning at the foot of the Pass did not deter me. “Attention: Turn Back Now” was boldly stated in three languages on a large yellow placard amplified by the stone-grey mountain backdrop.
The warning wasn’t meant for ALL drivers. It prohibited tour buses, large campers, and heavy trucks because the road was narrow and serpentine with certain stretches so constricted automobiles could not pass each other safely. There was a startling graphic of a car teetering on a vertical cliff with a precipitous drop.
I began the drive slowly and cautiously. As promised, the views were stunning. As I continued the ascent, however, it felt unwise to take my eyes off the road to enjoy them. The path was very twisty-turny. My anxiety escalated proportionately with increased altitude. The absence of guardrails on the cliff’s edge was an unexpected shock. With my excellent peripheral vision, I could see the abyss lurking within inches of my tires. I prayed without ceasing.
At the top of the Pass, I parked and got out of the car to stretch my legs and take in the vast panorama. It was a chance to relax the ghost-knuckled grip of my cramping hands, as well. Fortunately, the traffic had been sparse, and no game of chicken had presented itself.
Breathing in the elevated air and appreciating the glorious vista, my senses were lured by a lone harpist perched on a rock in the distance. Her exquisite music wafted on the wings of the wind into the portal of my delighted ears. I was overwhelmed by the ethereal, magical, mystical beauty that completely infused me. It was so Irish.
With one last inhalation of melody, I returned reluctantly to Clio’s four walls and began the long, steep descent. I remained in second gear the entire way. Thank God, my prayers were answered. Not one car appeared to thwart my trajectory.
Arrival in Dingle flooded me with indescribable relief and a feeling of exultant victory. I had overcome my fear of driving by traversing what was likely the most difficult road I would encounter in Ireland, perhaps anywhere. I was exhilarated recalling the miracle of that harpist’s transcendent music, like God’s own voice drifting with the clouds high above the world. An incredible gift I would have missed had I succumbed to my craving for safety and comfort. As an extra-added bonus, I was emboldened now with a courage I had not embodied just hours ago. Conor Pass reminded me that, regardless of any fear we face, there is always safe deliverance to terra firma.
The remainder of my time in Ireland offered many more adventures, triggered more fears, and presented more delights, but from this point forward a four-leaf clover was my constant traveling companion.
I arrived at Galway’s Shannon Airport before sunrise. It was a frosty April morning, around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The car rental office would not open until 8:00am. I bought some bland, tepid coffee from a vending station, laced it with powdered white stuff posing as cream, and plopped down on my luggage, which served as a convenient lounge chair while I waited. Willing my brain to function, no caffeine rush to be had, I lamented the artificial cream’s chemical residue prickling my tastebuds. As I sipped the vile liquid, snippets of my conversation with the Irish chap wafted in and out of consciousness like the globular nodules floating in my cup.
An hour later a restaurant finally opened its doors, and I was able to get a proper pot of Irish tea and a delicious scone. I felt so much better. Now there was no procrastinating the next step. I took a deep breath and told myself, “It’s time to get the car….”
I was hopeful I would be handed some beat-up buggy that could withstand a few additional nicks or bruises, if it came to that, but instead I was presented with a sparkly, fresh-off-the-lot purple Renault Clio. Any new ding I might inflict surely would hide in plain sight with this car! Oh well.
The rental agent gave me his lightning round overview of the dashboard and gear shift (which would be operated by my left hand since the driver seat was the passenger seat). And as soon as he was fading from my rearview another rental car loomed behind me, beaming its penetrating eyes, silently shrieking “get a move on.”
With only moments to grapple with the unfamiliar terrain, I stared wide-eyed at the alien gizmos, took another deep breath, said a little prayer, shifted into first, and drove off in pursuit of my B&B.
The next two days were pleasantly pleasant. I enjoyed exploring Bunratty and Limerick, though I continued to wrangle with ongoing jetlag.
Then I arrived in Adare, the third stop of my itinerary.
Not only was Adare one of the most stressful experiences of my trip it was one of the most upsetting of my life. Within fifteen minutes of entering the quaint little town I managed to sideswipe two cars on two separate streets.
The first brush happened directly in front of four teenage boys hanging out on a ledge hovering over the sidewalk. All eight eyes watched as Clio glanced the parked car below their feet. They immediately jumped from the wall and started hooting and hollering, running toward me as I turned around and stopped. One boy scooped up something from the street. As he approached, I got out of the car and expressed my heartfelt mea culpa.
I thought the boys were angry, but they were amused. The parked vehicle was theirs, and it was intact and unmarred. However, the decorative strip from the side of my car had popped off. It was handed over to me with a ceremonious flourish and a huge grin. Our tacit no-fault agreement established, I tossed the minor casualty into the backseat of Clio and went on my merry way, unsettled and shaken but deeply grateful it was not worse.
Moments later, just as my pulse had slowed to its normal rate, I sideswiped another parked car on a very narrow street in the heart of town. This time an older man started yelling as he approached me, and he WAS angry! But the lovely owner of the car I had struck hurried past the mean man and shooed him away. She was incredibly kind and reassured me her car was old and there was no harm done. She shrugged off her bent mirror as if it were nothing, more concerned that I was all right. What an angel.
In neither instance was there a suggestion to call the police and report the accidents. I was astonished. That would never happen in America! I was so grateful and felt so lucky. But the horror, shame, and fear I felt was overwhelming. I could not get out of that town fast enough. Instead of staying overnight as planned, I decided to move on to Tralee without delay.
Cruising more comfortably down the highway, I pondered my insane decision to plan a driving tour of this country. The Irish druid’s foretelling was starting to haunt me with a vengeance. Only two days into my fourteen-day trip and I was close to giving up and going home.
[NOTE: In a pathetic attempt at self-defense, seriously, navigating Irish roads is VERY tricky! In little towns, cars are parked half on the sidewalk curb, half on the one-lane street. This left no margin for error and exposed without question a depth perception disability I better address FAST.]
I was travel weary before setting foot on the plane. Yesterday’s inclement weather caused me to miss the evening flight to Ireland. I spent a sleepless night in a faceless motel without food or creature comforts. I returned to the airport early in the morning just so I could wander the octopus’ tentacles all day and bemoan time’s torturous crawl. Finally, I was in the Aer Lingus boarding area, still sleep deprived and underfed, waiting for my second chance to launch.
A dapper man sat next to me.
My travel companion was a tattersall adorned, middle-aged Irish gent on his way home to Dublin. His lilting brogue soothed my frazzled nerves as he asked about my travel plans. Early into our pleasant banter the discourse unexpectedly veered from delightful to discordant. My jangled neurons triggered some turbulence as he excoriated me: “You plan to DRIVE in Ireland?” He proceeded to regale me with Tales of Terror, the perils and pitfalls of American tourists driving on Irish roads. Hadn’t I heard about Matthew Broderick? Like a chastising father, he admonished me for my foolhardy decision to rent a car.
Before meeting this leprechaun, it didn’t seem consequential that I was not an experienced driver when planning my itinerary for the two-week trip. Even though I was a city girl who rarely drove a car, I had a valid driver’s license. And I wasn’t naïve. I had done my research. I knew that I would be driving on the wrong side of the road and the opposite way on the roundabouts. I knew it would require a little extra concentration. Okay, maybe a lot. But I didn’t believe it would be anything I could not handle. And I was savvy enough to purchase auto insurance through my American Express card just in case there were any mishaps along the way. I wouldn’t dream of leaving home without that! I felt prepared.
Yes, an automobile was central to my plans. It was too late now to reconsider, even if I wanted to.
The conversation slowed to a dribble then ceased, and I was left with my own thoughts. I hoped this guy was exaggerating the danger. You know, the way the Irish weave a yarn. I decided to dismiss his warning. Maybe he was just a patronizing male chauvinist perturbed that I was young and female and traveling alone and found it amusing to scare me.
This reverie was interrupted by a call to board. My next-door neighbor shook his head with a tad of exasperation, and with a sardonic grin he said: “Good Luck.”
I shrugged off residual jitters and reassured myself all would be fine as I slumped into the cramped middle seat of the crowded center aisle. The kid behind me rhythmically beat the seatback’s drum with his cute little footstick, thumping my sleepy head without mercy.
There was to be no rest on this flight.
I was inspired to write a little ditty for my sister-in-law to honor her entry into this auspicious decade. It is somewhat similar to my own birthday poem: heartfelt, uplifting, with a positive spin on aging! Anyone out there, oldish like me, who agrees with these sentiments? 🙂
Now you can see
You truly are free
Free just to be
Free from the struggle
To know who you are
Free from the quest
To reach that high bar
Free to relax
Free to explore
Free, free, free
The fifty-nine years you’ve lived
Led all these great gifts
Right to your door
Sixty-three and feeling free
Free to be
A dance of creativity
Music, art, and poetry
Strong as any Redwood tree
Heart and soul bounce merrily
Love for God
Love for me
Love for friends and family
With so much glee
I seem to be
Loving life at sixty-three!
We are all on it.
Teetering on a narrow blade. It could cut us clean through. A precarious knife’s edge. Uncomfortable. Terrifying. How do we stay balanced without the bloodletting? Do we need the hemorrhage to heal?
There is no off ramp. We either leap forward or fall backward. And the outcome is uncertain. It seems to be a fateful reckoning we cannot avert. We can try to ignore it, run away from it, anaesthetize it, sugarcoat it, even embrace it! It matters not.
We are on a perilous perch.
Can we love enough to stay upright? Or do we push and shove each other off the overcrowded precipice, making space solely for our own tribe? If we do that won’t the razor cut too deep? There is no saving oneself at the expense of another.
I wish we could avoid the cutting, the bleeding, the pain, the uncertainty, the danger before us.
It is a perilous perch.
Huddled together, like castaways on a life raft stranded at sea. Choppy waters all around. No vision of dry land or rescue in sight. Must we swim in this crimson pool?
Which way do we go? Right or left? No longer can there be a middle. Something must tip the scale. The logjam must break. Rushing waters will force a destination.
Does anyone know how this story ends? In this moment I feel the slicing, cutting, bloodlust gathering. The America I knew and believed in is gone. What will form to replace her? Love, peace, equality, or a cauldron of foment, turmoil, and narcissistic violence?
We are on a precipice, a razor’s edge. Together we leap forward or fall backward, but we can no longer straddle the middle. It will cut us clean through.
A perilous perch.
Deep, deep below in the rich dark umber, a tiny kernel lies. In fetal position it waits. Listening. Alert. Immobile. Nutrients abound in the fertile soil and are proffered to the embryo. The cocoon of luscious earth shelters as the seed abides. Heavenly rains fall, softening the crusty clay, trickling down, down, down to baptize the little one.
In a flash, lightning strikes. A switch flips. A fuse is lit. The call to awaken resounds. Life is set in motion.
Unwitnessed above ground, the thin sheath crackles. Sprouts play peekaboo through their newfound portals. Pecking and poking, shoots push their greedy snouts to widen the crevasses, eager to burrow their way to the surface. Such strong yearning to wave a friendly greeting to life, to breathe the crisp air and feel the sun’s rays.
Up the tendrils climb, inch by inch, an inexorable onward march, while the obsolescent shell, so willing to encapsulate and protect the nascent bud, shrivels, dries up, and falls away. It is no longer useful to the seedling but is revered as a holy vessel for the growing. Delicate pale green arms reach up and up, strengthening in determination as they progress.
At last, the miracle happens. The impenetrable sod parts like the Red Sea, making way for that insistent knocking at the door. The young plant celebrates its victorious breakthrough, free at last to experience the scents and sights and tastes and sounds. To bask in the sun’s emanations and waft gently in the springy breeze.
So much to enjoy before its return to the rich dark umber.
Below the undercurrents
Jostling surface waters
Tsunami waves and cross winds
A Mighty Force
Below the Undercurrents
And hold steady your keel
This imagery popped up to help me manage the feelings of sadness and horror that events of the past few days have triggered. Perhaps it provides some solace for you, too?