Plastic Portions and Plane Rides

Cubed food… The minuscule packages sport depictions of apple streusel. A smiling cow stares at the knife poised to cut into the plastic cover on the cup of yogurt. Everything comes in some form of rectangle or square object. It’s disgusting. Neatly worked into processed portions of plenty. Really not enough. It’s all miniature. All of it. Staring at the “meal” before me, I remember being a child and pretending to eat faux fried chicken and plastic portions of mashed potatoes. Each fake piece tinted in a particular manner. Always encouraging salivating thoughts all the while denying real nutrition to one child’s sloppy, ruddy cheeks.
The bolognese sauce is sub par. I expected no better. The scarlet paste mingles with melted “mozzarella” atop spiraled noodles. Better than the meal I cooked the day before.
There is an herb roll. I use it to soak up the leftover bolognese. It’s cold and slides down my dry throat without ease. I desperately want real food.
The constant assertion that I will be home in a matter of hours only slightly defies pain. I still have nine hours on planes and five to six hours waiting in airports. Flying, while enticing for the view, drains me. I enjoy the picturesque cloud cover.
That’s it.
The food stinks. The engines cancel any thought process. The space is cramped.
But, the people are good. Sure every once in a while there is a bad egg. On more and more occasions though, the people who travel beside me become fantastic characters and allow me to exercise creativity in conversation for a bit. I’ll certainly enjoy the company if nothing else.

There’s a breeze trickling through my open windows. It musses the air that stands nearly stagnant captured between these white walls. When the sun tugs at the curtain of clouds and the greenery just past my screen wrestles with the light, the room takes on a new cast of shadows and everything pauses motionless save for the action that is noted in the outside world. Mowers and cars and words and cicadas all hum together in a raucous mutation of prioritized life while I sit here attempting to remember how to breathe. How to relax. How to know peace again. In Ireland, it wasn’t easy, but it felt more attainable.

With the sanctity of space at my fingertips, days passed with musical interludes and hours of refreshing reading habits. I had a schedule for myself of sorts. Breakfast, dishes, class, library, write, read, lunch, music, class, library, rest, dinner, pub, repeat. Pub nights meant music and laughter and warm seats and early hugs. Eda and Madison and Kim and Catherine and Jensen and Cecelia all talking about our courses or opinions or TV or books. Lunch resulted in newfound appreciations for dirty chais. Intermittent trips were sporadically set for exploring parts of the country. There were stays in Galway where seagulls attacked dumping their bowels on my friends. The street musicians ignoring our shouts and snickering after we moved away. There were bouts of adventure amidst the streets of Cork uncovering coffee houses and local plays and up- and-coming bands. The Watermelons dazzling us with their covers of classic rock songs and early blues renditions. There were daytrips to Dublin wherein the Secret Book and Record Shop and Ulysses (a rare bookstore) coveted our attention and drew our eyes to copies of intriguing and haunting stories. Every shelf and table and available inch of floor space harbored copies of Middlemarch and Jane Eyre, The Gardener’s Year and 84 Charing Cross Road. They went on like that. Curious copies of texts I wanted to snatch up and carry home with me. Their bindings alight with bright illustrations and their pages afire with insight.

I miss that world. I know full well I’ve romanticized the experience. I know that I was miserable on occasion. I know that I struggled sometimes, that it was not a bouquet of roses. But, there was something about the atmosphere. The re-creation, nay, the acknowledgement of true self in that place in that time was miraculous. I did not fear others opinions. I was me. All the time. Quirks and all.

I just have to determine how to be that woman here. The fearless one who went out on limbs without her safety net slipped away on the plane home. She nestled beneath the sweater and the cloud cover and the familiarity of American accents.

How does one incorporate everything she learned about herself after reintegrating, or attempting to do so, in her home? There are no simple answers. There is nothing to act like an Irish pick-me-up or a call back to “the good ol’ days.” There is returning to what was familiar and possibly adding to it. Maybe the trick is to talk about it all more. Bottling up every experience and holding it close hurts. It’s painful to think of every moment that no one else will understand and that fear detains any story telling. If they don’t want to hear it, why give out the experience? Yet, keeping those memories captive ruins the way one views them. Suddenly every nostlagic visage features a blue note of remembrance and longing.

There are crickets out my window now when months ago there would have been crows. Perched on benches only a few feet from the picture windows in our kitchen, they would speak in their avian tongue. I wonder what they said about the people barred behind brick and mortar. How much energy did it take to ignore the babbling monstrosities that shouted and cried to nonsense beats every Monday and rose the next morning with hammers in their ears. I’ll just imagine for a little while that it is raining, that the skye is a mixture of green and grey and blue, and that I am tucked between layers of wool and slumber.

Afternoon Reflections: The Difference Between Returning and Leaving

Crows gather outside my window. Their small feet make miniscule tracks in the soft dirt as they peck about for food. Empty ice cream containers litter the path only a few feet away from the mass of black feathers and grey beaks. The grass remains a shocking color of emerald since January. The sky is an impermeable blue-green-grey mix of cloud and water, and small white flowers dot the yard outside outnumbering the dandelions, choking the yellow out in patches. A soft, constant drizzle presses against students who meander into the mist carefully soaking through each layer of attire. It’s a blessing that the wind does not rage today.

At my favorite pub, I sit with a cappuccino in the early afternoon attempting to forget for a few moments about exams. The seats are cushioned with red and brown velvet. The carpet is a burgundy print that shows wear in a few spots from the familiar scratch of shoes. There are banisters leading up to the second floor. The dark wood is soft to the touch and smooth as I glide along. I feel as if I belong here now in my own personal niche, my own personal hole in the wall pub with its perfect coffee and warm rooms and comfortable booths. A better home than my cold, white apartment indeed.

Ireland has become a home away from home. I have recently been grappling with that pitiful feeling of leaving this place alongside the deep need for familiar faces and warm embraces. This country, this town, is now another place of refuge for me. It is another personal kingdom that glistens in the sun on warm days showing off its green parks like a peacock turning about a room with its feathers open for glorious display.

The grey skies no longer worry me. They are a constant companion. While I miss sunshine, it will be terribly difficult to return to Indiana’s warm weather. It is the middle of May, and I am still sporting wool sweaters, socks, and scarves. I not so secretly relish that crisp feeling of waltzing into a morning rain shower and listening to Hozier croon about the Wicklow Mountains with a red wool scarf tied about my neck and a take away coffee in hand.

There is a delicate film over everything here. This thin veil separates the reality of existing in this place and the reality of returning to a very different one. Something about Ireland promises return visits. But, visiting a place is never the same as living in one. Visiting excludes frequenting a particular pub or staking a specific seat in the library first floor computer rooms or owning a school library card or inhaling the wind and rain and feeling it in boots for days. Visiting does not encapsulate the roots that might have set in. Visiting means five days here. Visiting is a taste of what could be if you are lucky enough to pursue stasis.

I will miss my pursuit of this particular form of stasis. I will miss my pub’s edifice and the red brick wall across the courtyard out my window and the way the sun sometimes beats through the clouds and the sound of the electric kettle boiling and the dappled shadows that fall in the twilight. I will miss the intoxicating sensation of being away from the world I know. As terrifying as it can be, it is an exhilarating movement. The ability to leave what is familiar and begin again in a new place surrounded by people who are just as clueless as you are about navigating the public transport systems and finding the right building on campus only solidifies knowledge that there are more adventures to be had.

The foreign experience challenges one’s personal convictions and opens the eyes of a person to recognize new schools of thought and, even if found disagreeable, discuss an idea without hurling insults. It is growth in ways unmeasured by home ties and only seen in the return of a person to old haunts and happy memories with new hopes and aspirations and exciting tales. The person who waltzes back into the States generally does so with new quirks and a few changes. She keeps in mind that the return is not difficult; it’s the leaving that is hard.

Edinburgh Snapshot

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I wish I’d tried haggis. Of all the things that people tell you to partake of when you get to Scotland, haggis is number one on the list. I did sample IrnBru and the fried Mars bar, the first tasting of orange cream soda and the second of chocolate melted heaven.

When one travels, one is expected to inhabit another culture, but I must do more than that. My goal is to adapt to the new place, customs, food, and lifestyle. Something so innocent as haggis surely ought to be indulged in, and yet the little voice in my head only knew the meaning of “wee sheep’s stomach” enough to know that would not happen.

Wednesday evening resulted in uncovering a local eatery and “foody” heaven called Under the Stairs. Lindsay, a friend who lives in Scotland, encouraged me and my friends to try it out. The room was dimly lit, and there was a window seat at the front of the store. Lamps and candles illuminated the space and subtle contrast in colors of deep mahogany and downy feather grey were noted. There was a range of overstuffed armchairs and miniature tables to choose from. The fireplace heated the room, and everyone seemed to duck lower and speak softly.

The menu set between two sheets of thin birch wood. Everything read well. Salmon and gnocchi and wild rice tempted me. There was an organic bread board and sumptuous lamb steak. I settled on the lamb (something I’ve never tasted before). It was paired with roasted cherry tomatoes and steamed green beans. I do not believe I have ever known more flavor in one dish. Sweet and salty and tart… The lamb was pink and succulent.

I salivate at the thought of it now. Here in Maynooth, I am reduced to chicken, cheese, and pasta.

Nonetheless, Under the Stairs procured a sense of indulgence. Try something new and uncommon. Go out on a limb. Scotland was my indulgence. Edinburgh was small enough that it unfurled itself in increments and yet we continued to discover more with every step outside the hostel. There were street musicians performing “Wonderwall” and being interrupted by a few tipsy men asking for The Killers’ “Human.” There were shops tucked away with vintage Pendleton blazers and necklaces sporting miniscule tea cups. The Royal Mile Market offered coffee and pastries to the hungry hipster set in one of the city’s early churches. Vendors harbored their wares in stalls that were both rustic and chic. Records, soaps, leather earrings, and locally printed t-shirts enticed the curious onlooker and begged for our quid.

We traipsed through the streets and discovered small patches of green space where people congregated in the afternoon sun and snapped multiple photographs of the edifice of the castle from our perch.

It was magical that first day to see so many people and hear their conversations and know the difference between Scottish and Irish accents better, one lilting a bit more than the other. Cobblestone streets coated in foot prints and lungs drawing in Scottish air and fingers pressing against the seam of Edinburgh’s New Town and Old Town. Crossing the bridge, the sun swam in the distance offering a few final rays before descending into the cityscape and bidding us goodnight and enjoy your evening in the house of laughter.

He is in the World Today! He Lives!

Today is about rest, revitalization, renewal, rebirth, and rediscovery, because He lives!

This Easter I am in another place. Apart from my family and friends, I attend a separate service, I sing surrounded by strangers, and I wake to a slightly different view of the sun. I wake on occasion forgetting that I am not at home, and this is one of those mornings. This morning I woke to a room of darkness. The blinds were shut. The lights were out. At 7 a.m. nothing stirred and the sun did not peak through slit in my window pane.

I wonder what Jesus felt upon waking in the tomb. It must have been darker than my room. I wonder what He thought as He rolled the stone away. It must have been some form of glee or perhaps pure, indescribable peace. I wonder what awe and fear overtook the women when they discovered He was gone and the joy they must have known when they discovered He rose. It must have been beautiful.

Today we remember Him through parables and stories, meals and service. We meet Him through our own difficulties and sorrows. We know Him through the unbelievable tales that we recognize as fact. Faith is a difficult thing to rely upon, but it is so much more than just a feeling or belief. It is a conviction that holds tight to us. It gives us hope and teaches how to better love. It is difficult, but not impossible to maintain. There is so much joy built into this belief, this inherent knowledge that He is mine and I am His.

This morning, I attended Easter service at Maynooth Community Church, a Presbyterian congregation. Held above a post primary school, people gathered with their children and friends. Little ones hobbled about knowing full well that the pastor hid eggs for them to seek out after service. Their bright tinfoil shells hardly served as safeguards against miniature fingers clawing for chocolate chunks of delight. We could hear the distinct crumble and crackle of a few eggs found and devoured during service.

The pastor, Keith, spoke with vigor as they welcomed six new members to the congregation, each stating that they believed Christ died for their sins and that they would go to Him always for support and prayerfully consider His desires for their lives. After this, Keith stood before us all and asked for our help in relaying the good news. But, more than this, he challenged us to remember how and why and for whom God gave His son.

When we are children, our parents ask us the famous Sunday luncheon question, “What did you learn in Sunday school-worship-kid’s-time today?” I remember on occasion shaking my head and saying, “I don’t remember.” But, today I think we could all offer the lesson as easily and succinctly as this, “I learned that He lives again for me and that because He rose again, we will, too.”

I walked back to my apartment singing to myself “He Lives.” Again and again, I repeated the refrain. Because that’s the most important part of today. He lives! He is with me. And even though part of me is sad and wishing to be home to celebrate with my family, I know that I am not alone. God’s got me and I’m okay. He sits beside me in the silence of my room. He holds me when I cry. He reminds me that I must rejoice. Being apart from the people who mean the most to you is so much more difficult than we realize until we do it and they are not right there in reach. We cannot drive forty-five minutes to say, “Mom, I need you.” We cannot run across campus for a cup of coffee and a laugh and a hug.

It makes me wonder if Jesus ever felt lonely. How lonely did He feel nailed to two pieces of timber? We always have Him. He had His own father. When He was on the cross in agonizing pain, He looked at us with eyes of sadness maybe partially for Himself, but I think also because we put Him up there. We must remember this. How often do we take for granted His constant presence? How often do we speak words of hollow solitude forgetting that we never truly stand alone in any place?

He rose from the dead. He moved back the stone. He died that we might live. And, He stands beside us at all times with arms open and offering solace and peace and comfort at all hours. We are never alone. Rejoice for He is always with us!

Daffodils and People: A Matter of Observing Change

I have only been in Ireland for approximately eight weeks and already so much has changed. The weather slowly warms. The sun shines a little more often. The crows act a little hungrier, nibbling closer and closer at the ground hoping some bystander will toss a bit of bread or a few crisps in its direction. It rains more frequently. The sun lingers longer and the air moves easily.

Spring is here and with it is rebirth. Revival, revitalization, renewal in fine coats of daffodils and dandelions and dalias. People walk through campus wearing fewer layers and toting about their rain jackets. Cobalt blue and hot rod red and peach blotches of color mark the grey sidwalk as they bustle from one side of the university to the next on a spree only known to them.

Easter is coming. The stores stock their shelves with candied eggs and Cadbury displays encompass the front of some shops as if the chocolate company is taking over the world, or at least Ireland. People talk about the coming holiday so as to divert attention from the courses that choke them under pressure of terror.

Everything is changing. Everything is growing and morphing into beautiful shapes of petals and blades of grass and stems and life.

These are changes we can accept. These are things we long for each year at the end of each winter. We ache for the new light to shine on our sleepy hills. We long for the sun. We need its rays like a parched person needs water. We call on it. But, there are other changes that we shove aside. We ignore and omit the things that we wish to forget.

It is difficult to find the beauty in these unwarranted changes. But, it exists in the life that blossoms around us. Perhaps it is best illustrated as people are akin to the daffodils. We begin in a state of stasis in the ground and, once planted, we begin to morph; eventually we poke up from the soft earth and admire the sun, worshipping its rays and hoping that it continues to shine upon us, and then the stem grows, the bud forms, and the flower blooms. Brilliant yellow and white petals are a personal sunshine comforting passersby even when the rain comes and glowers on the day. Then, the bloom dies. More bulbs appear below ground. They might be transplanted in another place to give yet another gloomy person light.

This is change. It is a change often welcomed, especially by gardeners. We take the plant and move it to another place offering new light. It is a beautiful thing to share this little moment of brightness with others. It is like placing a secret carefully before the eyes of everyone and asking them to see it and notice it and cherish it. Even for a second.

Experiencing such change is even more marvelous than simply noticing it. Noticing something and careful observation are very different things. The observation requires carefull attention, which is more meaningful perhaps. It requires patience. It requires detection of nuance and finesse. To experience the growth and change of a plant or person or personified peanut even means you see it, more than that you recognize its being and existence.

I am not saying something so silly as be the flowers, be the change. I’m saying that we acknowledge these changes and the recognition of these observations is a beautiful thing. Change is fickle and we tend to regard it with negative assumptions. Yet, so much good comes from the movement of new ideas and notions. Change removes a veil and allows light to shine on the subject. It uproots us and forces us to recreate aspects of ouselves we thought we knew. It makes us uncomfortable and vulnerable and susceptible to its gentle hands. We become pliable. We become ready for rediscovery. We become our true selves. And it is magnificent if we can sustain our new truth and strive to maintain it. That thing that makes you your Self, it does not matter what it is that incurs that change. It could be a new love for art history or skydiving or gardening or physics. Let the change mold you and discover that new thing that makes you You. Accept it. Because we should not deny ourselves and others the reality of who we are.

Untitled Unabashed Voice

In P.S. I Love You, Holly Kennedy allows the letters of her dead husband to lead her on a journey of rediscovery. I do not have a dead husband. No one is writing me letters telling me to buy a lamp for my side of the bed or betting on me to sing karaoke (that was my choice). This invisible man has not sent me to Ireland. No, I chose to come abroad. My choice is my rediscovery.

Before I left, Mom and I sat on her bed one evening talking and rereading an essay for a scholarship. She asked me, “Why did you choose Ireland? You could have gone anywhere!” I honestly had not thought about it too terribly much. I mean, I had my logical reasons: there were classes that would actually count for something towards my majors in Ireland, we have family roots here, etc. But, I could not give her a clearcut answer. I could not articulate the why. And, then it occurred to me. It was not all my choice.

“God said, ‘go there.’ So, I’m going. You told me to listen to Him. I’m listening.” I smiled a little. I think we ended up crying. It was a happy discovery for me. I cannot say how Mom felt or feels. Maybe God saying go sounded like a copout. It certainly is not though.

It is so frightening to watch us grow up. Our parents, grandparents, church family, and friends see us change and grow. And, I know that my family, church and blood, probably feel that this adventure is changing me in ways that seem unhealthy for a young woman. I know that my reassurances will probably fall on deaf ears because how can my words be trusted thousands of miles from home. But, I aim to express how organic and necessary and healthy any change or growth or discovery is for me here and now.

I hated change as a child. I said it over and over, especially in Sunday school, especially when it came to change at church. This one place was to be my constant home. My house of peace. My sanctuary of song and spirit. My heart’s very center lived in the wood panels and grey couches and red cushioned pews. I was a part of the bells that rang and the choir that sang and the music of the Spirit. I still am. It is still home. I will love that place and those people all my life. But, there was so much change. I recognize these things were necessary. I knew that even then. That never makes it easier. We all felt the changes. They were deeply seeded in our bones and our hearts all saw them as steps toward our church’s survival, our church’s revival.

I am afraid that the people whom I love are disappointed in me and that they see my change and growth in a new light.  They are disappointed in my word choice and my voice. But, I have been hurt. The people I love do not accept me as I am now. Because I disappointed them. Because I utilize language is considered on some levels offensive, lacking demure sentiments of young woman, and corruptive. I am not corrupted. I am not impure. I am not a heathen. I am a Christian. I am a woman of faith. I am an author, a musician, a barista, and a speaker. I have a voice and it is mine. I will use it as I choose. And, the vocabulary, though ridiculous to some, is mine. While stream of conscious, I carefully craft my work, processing and writing all at once.

As a writer, everyone will not like what I write or say or what my characters stand for, but I accept this now. What is said is not always popular. It will not always be favorable. Sometimes I might feel like I am speaking to an empty room of no one who will listen. And, even if I reach that point, I will continue to write. I will write my truth. I will share it. People may choose to read it. They may choose not to look at it at all. That is not up to me. It may make me unpopular, but I have never been incredibly so. And while at one time it was my goal in life to be of a certain crowd, I recognize now that I do not need to be part of some higher club. This is not high school. I do not have to lay down and die before the notion that I must achieve the approval of some.

I did not aim to disappoint. I still do not apologize. But, I hurt because people find that my use of a single word makes me a different person. I have changed. I have grown. I have become more myself in all that though. It is not negative change. It is positive. It is my rediscovery of my Self. It is a powerful action. It is my journey. It is my life. I claim it. God leads me. And maybe some find that to be blasphemous as I speak with a fiery tongue and share my opinion easily, but that does not make me less. I would ask anyone if there were a moment in which he or she never felt so passionate that they said something that might be considered offensive or spoken out of turn. But, I know as a fact that we are all led to that fire and passion. We are incapable of saying and expressing any such ideas without never raising our voices out of feeling. There is nothing wrong with feeling!

When people are empowered or frightened or challenged or alive, they speak. They should! We should speak what is on our hearts. It should be our call in life to do that. God tells us to speak for him. No, I’m not saying that Christ would stand before you and speak as I did and I’m not saying that I speak as such before Him, but he does not condemn me for my tongue. He still loves me. He still cherishes my heart. And, He has not said quit Ireland. Leave as it turns your gentle heart towards the heathen struggle of humanity.

He told me to come here. He said, “Go!” I went. I am here. I am me in this place. Possibly more myself now than I ever was in Anderson or Greenfield. And, maybe that scares people, but I never felt I had room to breathe and be me. So, here I am. Here I am now in this place that offers so much hope and fear all at once. And I am me.