Dublin seemed the obvious destination. We would be close to various restaurants and tourist attractions. It would be easy to call a cab or rideshare, and stunning natural sights, such as the cliff walk from Bray to Greystones, were close enough by to visit by bus.
When I booked our trip to Ireland, it was almost a year in advance, and the excitement around the idea was palpable. The trip kept my husband and I going on twelve-hour days, during the coldest days of winter. If the electricity went out or we got a flat tire, all we’d need to do was mention Dublin, and the vibration in the room would heighten. Now in our late thirties, this would be our first solo vacation. Unlike all previous trips, we were not going to visit family for the holidays, nor did we have work-related activities waiting on us. It was just us.
I told everyone. Friends, family, and work associates were either excited or feigning excitement for me. All I could talk about was how refreshed I’d be when I returned. An incredible trip was non-negotiable. After all, every minute becomes precious when the overworked are finally able to breathe.
Off we went!
After a redeye and a half hour cab ride, my husband and I were equal parts exhausted and elated. We arrived at 8 a.m. in need of a place to lounge before our hotel room would be ready. That first day, we bummed around in the neighborhood near Phoenix park, taking walks nearby with our luggage stowed safely at the hotel. We talked about how crazy it was that we had an entire week to ourselves as we reveled in our haze of gratitude, which was augmented by a good island rain.
Then came the next morning.
The cappuccinos and breakfast and questions. Why did neither of us feel settled? And why in the hell were we both still thinking about work? It shouldn’t have taken so long to purge our to-do lists from our busy minds, nor should either of us have done the inevitable … checked email. Not only was the email checked, but it was continuously checked. In fact, our first full day in Dublin was riddled with work-related anxiety that piqued in the middle of our first nice dinner.
There is nothing to be done when the inevitable travel argument arrives.
We both saw it coming on the headwind of jet lag, strengthened by the persistent proximity that a small hotel room demanded. We traded a few mean jokes after a our meal, which were received sourly and soon became truly mean comments, then accusatory comments about whose comments carried more acridity.
This is when it dawned on me that a true vacation could be impossible.
There came a point when my husband and I, two tough-knuckled Gen Xers, almost forty now, getting invitations to 20-year high school reunions, needed to remind ourselves that we have opportunity to slow down, and if we don’t take it, it could be quite some time before the opportunity returns. Mindfulness, living in the moment—it’s all so trendy because it’s all so necessary to offset the constant churning. But how to turn off the switch?
I meditate daily, so I can say with authority, it can take more than meditation. Sometimes, it takes a bit of good, old fashioned, Gen Xer grit—the same grit it takes to work so hard—to slow down.
On Day 3 of our vacation, my husband and I wandered the streets of Dublin. We breathed in the rainy, overly green beauty; its unabashed street art and poetry; its brightly painted doors that led to museum after museum, pub after pub. To combat our busy minds, we agreed to shut down the phones and walk until thoroughly and appropriately soaked.
We walked to the EPIC museum (which stands for Every Person Is Connected), to the Writers Museum, and to the National Museum of Ireland. We walked to shopping malls with slightly better-cut clothes than those at home. We walked to cafes and used our phones for little more than pictures. We soaked in the island moisture as well as its pride; its widely-promoted and episodic history of oppression and uprisings, captured so adroitly on a plaque on Parnell Street that displays a telling message by Liam Mac Uistin that ends “O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision.”
The freedoms of all people are often taken for granted, even squashed by our desire to achieve. Or another’s desire to achieve.
We worked long days for years to buy a home, to be able to travel; we went into indentured servitude for a higher education that enabled us to work through weekends in order to find these small bites of freedom in the form of a few days doing little more than existing and consuming. Seeing Ireland, a country home to ancestors on both sides of our family tree, was the prize. We worked our adult lives for the freedom to read Uistin’s message and do a proverbial face palm as we reflected.
After the grit-filled walk, our fast-paced purging of burdensome thoughts, the trip truly began.
It began in the middle, and we came to see what was all around us. After 21,000 steps, then 23,000, then 26,000, our heels screamed, but we could see and feel it all. The fighting could be dodged after that purging, a sleepless night could be embraced, and the hundreds and thousands of people we walked with and past, those with whom we traded words and shared music in restaurants and malls, could all be met with presence.
Even those people we merely read about in museums, who couldn’t have imagined a reality in which voyages were taken so easily outside the mind, were points of connection. Those who would laugh at the idea of a small electronic device that could reach out to family from across oceans and offer us every comfort may have also been able to predict the burden of such immediate connectivity.
Our perceived inability to disconnect is a self-inflicted oppression that seems heightened during times of supposed reprieve. But this, like jet lag, can be eased with time. And so, after walking it off the way we Midwesterners are wont to do, we began to enjoy. If you go to Dublin, I recommend that you buy a good umbrella and walk. Dine at Chapter One (there's an affordable pre-theare menu), walk quickly beyond Temple Bar (photo opp is enough), savor a Nespresso at the standing-only coffee bar, enjoy the museums.
My husband and I spent our last days enjoying the food and sights thoroughly. We watched those outside moving with heads tilted down and smiled at the few who looked straight ahead or over to nod.
We are all going somewhere, but sometimes we need to pay attention to what is here, now.
Writing News: Fiction is forthcoming in Juked. A few essays at Elephant Journal. An excerpt from my novel-in-stories earned semifinalist status from the Book Pipeline Competition, so I hope to have news there soon. #stillwriting