My heart was at the same time broken and filled with all the joy there is—a surge of emotion that altered vision: crisp edges, blurry hues. It was like knowing a “secret to life” was inside this moment, but being unable to grab onto it.
I suspect it is this that inspires people to have children and love affairs. As in fairy tales, we imagine love as total protection and bliss. We want love to be floating leaf boats down river, clasping our hands in joy, magically producing leaves for as long as we want them, ensuring we clear fences, and protecting who we love from everything, forever.
Which is why this moment at the same time held tragedy. The heartbreak when we fail our children, our lovers, our parents, our planet…or feel they’ve failed us. But failing an illusion isn’t really failure is it?
Taking Claudia to the farm and assembling a host of friends and family there, reminded me (emotionally) of a five day hike I took in Northern Thailand. I located a native guide to take me to visit some remote hill tribes; an unsponsored, unchartered “tour”. Of this experience I wrote:
Then there is your first village arrival. Older children who have not seen white people for years and younger children who’ve only heard stories rush down the trail to greet you, flitting in and out of a safe distance. You feel like royalty escorted by fireflies. There are skirts and head cloths—dyed brighter than the flowers from which the ink was leaked—wrapped around women insisting you eat the dinner they had been preparing while they beat clean the mats of their children who will double up to make you sleeping room. There are men so wrinkled they seem older than the tradition of the opium pipe they offer. There is smoke, curling off cone, the smell of earth macerated in time. You perceive how many worlds there are and in how few of them you’ve lived. You exhale and lay back under a new sky.
Gathered at the farm were generations of people whose lives have been intertwined for decades. There we were—young and old—dancing through dew-damp grass, chasing fireflies and waving sparklers. I was a child again: full of curiosity about how bugs glow and fearless to chase after them in the dark because I’m surrounded by people who’ve loved me as long as I’ve existed and others who haven’t loved me as long but whose love is no less. And when the night finally grew quiet, the very sky I’d grown up under stared back at me. Not a new sky, but a new you that lies beneath it. A steady sky is more like what love is. Many of the stars we see at night have died long ago, and may have since been replaced by new galaxies that we can’t yet see, but it always feels like the same sky.
I returned to Ireland to go about with my hitchhiking-acquired, adopted family I met last year. Mum and Da (Gráinne and Danny), Sisters/Aunts (Deirdre, Una, Bernie, Eimear, Aine, Niamh, Breda, and Angie), Brothers/Uncles (Dee, Declan, Bob, Tony, Eddie and Toss). Can’t forget Auntie Betty over in Castlebar, plus the younger generation of Ailbhe and her French husband, his parents, my ex-fiancé now brother Diarmuid (the joke that started it all), and our best man/brother Conor with his fiancé Victoria and new baby Caroline. And these are just the members of the clan I got to visit with! There are more in Galway, England, Australia, America…
It’s been ten years since I travelled through Northern Thailand and “perceived how many worlds there are and in how few of them I’ve lived”. Despite visiting another dozen or so countries in that decade, I’ve…