Thursday, November 22, 2012

Angst-Giving and Norman Rockwell

  Those of us in the American "Baby Boomer" generation and older can probably remember the lovely and nostalgic Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving cover for the Saturday Evening Post magazine.  It is a classic depiction of a happy and very white family sitting down to a family feast designed to inspire Thanksgiving for all of God's graces and the highest form of family love and togetherness.  And I can honestly say that it represents Thanksgiving gatherings of my childhood - well, that is, it represents a lovely moment-in-time and those lovely moments usually lasted as long as it takes to look at the painting.

   Seriously, did any one really have a whole day like that?  In my family, in whichever configuration of the year that included grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, there was a huge amount of required "traditional" food (turkey, bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, creamed pearl onions, green beans (just plain, the casserole dish came later), jellied cranberry sauce (why do they call it a sauce?), fresh baked rolls with butter, and pumpkin pie.  Dinner was always late (sometimes very late) getting to the table as there was always so much to prepare, people arrived early or late, the kids' table impeded movement, and we were hungry and boisterous. 

   The combining aromas of roasted fowl, cinnamon and brown sugar, pumpkin and gravy were as an aphrodisiac of sorts. FINALLY we said our prayer of Thanksgiving - Grace - and oohed and ahhhed as the huge browned bird was processed in and placed on the table to be carved.  Passing of bowls from one direction, the chinking sound of serving spoons and cutlery on china, ice and water pouring into crystal (or lesser glass depending on one's age and table status) were the background music as everyone settled in and began to devour - politely more or less - the banquet set before us.  And then...something triggered a response from one of us kids or a tolerated relative would make a comment that more than triggered a response from another more entitled relative that would then provoke a louder discussion.....and the ensuing "discussion" continued while the food was consumed, the pie and coffee or milk served, clean up begun, coats put on and cars driven away.  Then there was the endless dissection of the event by the "adults" until Christmas, when we all began again.  I do remember one near fist fight at my grandmother's dinner table...and we laugh about it, now.

   And then there are the precious origins of this feast of "Thanksgiving" for the hosts of those who had traveled far to settle in this wild land.  I know that my First Nation friends bear in their bones the memories of all the later "-ations" they and peoples of color who followed suffered at the hands of those who themselves were said to have been escaping persecution.  Intimid-ation, discrimin-ation,  annihil-ation, recrimin-ation, subjug-ation, degrad-ation.

   In this age, overloading on football and 'way too much food are the prevailing hallmarks of this holiday.  Followed immediately or simultaneously by retailoholism by shopping online and in those chain stores who will be open today.  Our culture exacerbates the expectation of over-eating, over-drinking, and over-spending. Seasonal decorations that begin creeping in before Labor Day and TV ads determine our needs and greeds.  When juxtaposed against the reality of so many homeless, hungry, un- and under-employed as well as those who are grieving, depressed, alone, and/or seriously ill, Norman Rockwell's idyllic scene becomes a caricature of the time that never was.  BUT WAIT....there is still hope in that lovely image...

   Whatever your life circumstance, this mark on the calendar offers a chance to remember a moment-in-time that gives you pleasure, soothes your soul, makes you laugh, warms your heart.  Find a moment to give thanks in whatever way lightens your burden - through prayer, a phone call or text, an email, a donation to the ringing Santas at the grocery store. 

   For myself, I am grateful that I feel wanted by those I love and for having more than I need even if not all that I want. 

   I am thankful for the friends who are like family and even more so for family who are my friends.

   MOST OF ALL, I am thankful for the gift of happy memories, even of Thanksgivings-gone-wrong, and most especially for those who have been with me in the most difficult moments of life.  I can set aside grief of the past for today.

   Everyone has a story with a beginning, a middle, an end.  We have good days and bad, ordinary and outstanding.  Today is just a day, but it is in what we make of it that will tell the tale in days to come. 

   Thank you, Norman Rockwell, your painting is food for thought.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sandy 2012

Sandy 2012

The storm has gone, the rivers rized,
the ocean blew away the prize 
of Atlantic City and the beaches
in a way I hope will teach us
not to mess with Mother Nature and,

believe it when they say Escape Her!

Now to clean up and assess it,
and give thanks for all who met it
and helped the rest of us carry on
through the night and into Dawn.
      It was the proverbial "dark and stormy night" with much anxiety all around.  What would we find in the morning?  Thankfully, I and my family and friends are all ok.  No damage of siginificance, not even power lost for most of us.  Very many others have had significant, life-altering damage, injury, and even death. 
     It is far too early to know what the long-term effects will be but as in all such disastrous times, there will be tragedy, comedy, and triumph to be seen.   For now, gratitude for what didn't happen is foremost in my heart and mind.

All personal content and photos are the property of Leeosophy and ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Storm Before the Calm

       All the feverish activity of preparation is nearly over.  The rain has started, the winds will steadily increase as the day progresses and remain at hurricane force for several days if the storm stalls as predicted.  Hurricane Sandy along the east coast with a nor'easter nested inside combined with a winter storm on our western edge portends disaster heading directly our way.  A storm of unprecedented, historical, and "monster" proportions, nicknamed "Frankenstorm" by the media is moving in.  With a projected range of nearly 1000 miles in breadth, the forecasters have already decided that the damages will be in the billions and power outages could last "weeks". 

       SO, the table, chairs, and flower pots in the yard have been secured.  The car is filled with gas (in case I have to leave and IF the garage door battery backup works!), extra water, lantern and radio batteries, and non-perishable food have been obtained.  The bottom row of books on several bookcases and a variety of other things such as the doll cradle and other toys always awaiting the visits of my granddaughters have been placed up off the floor in the fnished basement.  My important papers are stored securely and the really important papers and other stuff are in the computer bag I'll grab if I have to leave. 

       Today I am just doing more normal things around the house.  Exchanging summer clothes for winter, setting aside things to give to the eventual charity pick-up, and continuing the never-ending attempt to organize my various needlework projects will occupy some of my time over the next few days.  I have books to read, those (many) projects to work on, and even some writing to do - none of which will require electricity.  I also have a gas stove and a blessed French press so I won't even have to go without my coffee!  I am well aware that I am luckier than many who will be in the path of this storm along with me. 

       I'm not a fan of or believer in an "interventionist" God who sits by a chess board moving human pieces around and decides who gets slammed and who doesn't, but no doubt as the winds howl and the roof rattles, habits of a lifetime will find me in intercessory prayer.  At least I'll have someone to talk to in the midst of it all.  And therein lies the Calm....  Peace, safety, and Calm to all of you who will share this time with me, one way or another.  Stay tuned.  I expect to be back soon.  I may even tweet, if I'm certain of enough battery power for the phone.  That would be, of course, @leeosophy.

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Heading Home

       The colors of the leaves are slowly changing here in central Virginia.  There are some cool days and some warm, some nights are chilly and some even cold.  Autumn is upon us.  The sunny days are filled with the noises of cows, flying birds, and birds in the trees - angry and otherwise - interrupted on Saturdays by the occasional report of a shotgun somewhere in this neighborhood of wooded acres, farmland, and hunters planning their upcoming seasons.   Loud pickup trucks whiz past the driveway of this multi-acred homestead at frightening speeds for a narrow and surprisingly busy twisty-turny road. 

It's a drizzly gray day as I write, the car is packed with all but overnight essentials.  Capt Mommy (also known as Favorite Youngest Daughter in these pages) and Officer Daddy are on their way home from a lovely 10th Anniversary trip.  Favorite Youngest Granddaughter has just awakened from a morning nap and I hear the voice recording for "Thumper" the rabbit speaking.  Li'l Bit - as Mommy and Daddy call her - is still playing contentedly but it's nearly time for her lunch.

Silly is Fun!
       This time tomorrow, if all goes well unlike the trip here, I will be halfway home to my small nest on postage stamp sized acreage, with no cows, or shotguns (that would mean something VERY different there than here!), but lots of birds and changing leaves. After nearly two months, there will be no more toddler schedules to keep, no more room monitor static in my ear overnight, no more daycare shuttles.  Peace, quiet, solitude - I'm missing her already. 

       Yet there is much to do when I get home, people to see - Favorite Triplet Nephews, Favorite Sister (I only have one), Favorite Aunts, friends (all are Favorites!) for lunch, gym to go to (oh joy, oh rapture), and even some meetings for some upcoming consulting.  Oh yes and a few (dozen) needlework projects to work on (please note I did NOT say finish though that is the ultimate goal). 

       Tomorrow will give me many miles to go before I sleep.  But for this moment, the woods are lovely dark and deep,  the deer pass by, Li'l Bit smiles, and all is good with today.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Feeding Acorns to Zebras

       It's one of THOSE weeks.  The kind that has a date of dread and the anticipation of that date is usually as bad as or even worse than the actual date.  I know from the 1st day of September that it is coming and I watch the calendar more closely than usual; I suppose because I don't want it to sneak up on me as on the original day.  The date is an anniversary of one of several painful life-exploding events I have experienced and it still takes my breath away 5 years later.  I do know from those all-too familiar experiences that, as each year passes, the threshold of distress on such dates is lowered but never goes away completely.  I have also learned that despair is useless; the world keeps on spinning with or without my participation and there is more than enough despair in the world. And besides, if I just keep hoeing my woe, I'd have missed the chance to feed a zebra an acorn.  

       The days are moving swiftly as fall and summer collide.  Frosty mornings and toasty afternoons challenge thermostats and clothing decisions.

A chilly rainy morning on the way to Pre-School

       My sojourn at Favorite Youngest Daughter's house is only a couple of weeks from ending.  FYD is traveling for work, her hubby works nights, and I get to play with Favorite Youngest Granddaughter when she is not in pre-school.  When she is, I get to play at the local quilt shop where I have learned some new techniques (the term "skill" does not apply to this errant quilter), I have done a fair bit of reverse quilting (that is a nicer way of saying "ripped it out and started over"), and have whittled away a bit more of the Favorite Spawns' inheritance.  But it does keep one busy and focused and less likely to wander off into an unpleasant and isolating cloud of self-absorbing emotion.  Bright colors also chase the clouds and my local friends are no longer surprised with the combinations I choose!  But other friends express surprise with my occasional domestic meanderings.

One of a few works-in-progress
And yet another
       The surprising truth to some is that I'm a closet homebody!  It's a surprise because it seems I'm rarely home and hardly doing anything domestically inclined but that has more to do with how things are than how I would have them be.

       But to use a phrase I don't actually like, "it is what it is", and I am impelled by my genetics to do what I can with what I have and keep moving forward.  (NO, I don't make lemonade!)  There are so many important things that need to be done in this world to end starvation, enhance civil rights, stop wars, reduce energy waste, improve ecology, and on and on.  I get requests to sign petitions, save dogs, and donate to a hundred worthy causes (and a thousand un-worthy) on daily basis. There is a critical election in this country just over a month away and the economic worries are endless.  Thankfully I have friends in high places who do very important things all day and even at night.  They write great news articles and blogs and make speeches articulating what I think so much better than I can, so I'm happy to let them.  And I attend to all that I am able to do.  At the moment I'm coasting into the early autumn, a rare peaceful time in a month often fraught with angst.  I will be home soon and running hither and yon attending to all sorts and conditions of humankind, known and unknown, solvable and not.  Hopefully my attempts then will prove useful in some small way to someone.

       In the meantime I have a few more chances to spend time with my favorite zebra feeder and that, my friends, is better than any balm Gilead ever had.

My Favorite Zebra Feeder

All content to include text and personal photos prior to and subsequent to this post 
is the sole property of the author with ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

KILMAINHAM ~ EireLandings ~ The Journey

Patriots Inn, Inchicore Road, Dublin
        We rolled back into Dublin on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon; a perfect spring day.   On a peaceable tree-lined street, in the midst of everyday hustle and bustle, an attractive looking fa├žade of a pub took my attention.   As always camera in hand, I took a photo of the sign above the entrance.  As we turned a corner, I kept reading it over and over; it took a moment for the caption to sink in:

       “This old pub standeth on sacred ground surrounded by the high walls of Royal Kilmainham Hospital by the ancient cemetery of Bully’s Acre and the dungeons of Kilmainham Jail.  The Patriots Inn has been closer to the pulse of Irish History than any other contemporary pub.”
       For me it was a truly heart-stopping moment as we turned the corner to our hotel and found, directly across the street, the infamous Kilmainham Jail.
       We were free for the afternoon so after a quick check-in at the hotel, Favorite Daughters and I went across the street to see what we could see.  I’ve known about the jail from the time I was a child and learned about the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin, yet another attempt on the part of the Irish to throw off British rule.  But the emotional connection to the jail for me came from my first visit to Ireland in 1985 when I heard the song “Grace”, new that year.  It’s based on the true story of one of those who was part of the 1916 Rising – more on that in a moment.
       I was not familiar with the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham, now comprising the beautiful grounds and buildings of the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
Royal Kilmainham Hospital
Bully's Acre
Irish Museum of Modern Art
       I was also not completely familiar with Bully’s Acre which is the location for the former military hospital.  It is replete with the history and interments of Ireland’s heroes, princes, monks, knights, and paupers.  Legend has that the great Irish chieftain Brian Boru’ camped here before the important battle of Clontarf in 1014 and that two of his sons are buried there.  

       A personal aside is that while at the IMMA/Royal Hospital, I saw a plaque with a short history of Bully’s Acre.  The plaque mentioned another great Irish rebel, a protestant at that, Robert Emmet, who may have been briefly interred there after a failed uprising in 1803.  Although executed elsewhere in Dublin, his body was sent to Kilmainham Jail for claiming or to be buried on the hospital grounds.  His remains mysteriously disappeared but are thought to have ended up in an Anglican church in Dublin. Emmet failed to capture Dublin Castle and is said to have the nefarious distinction to be the last person the British courts sentenced to and executed by the barbaric means of hanging, drawing and quartering. 
       What drew me immediately is that my maternal grandfather’s name was Robert Emmett Sullivan, born in the US in 1895.  He mysteriously disappeared in 1941.  We know very little about him or his family but I was definitely struck by the name of the famous-in-Ireland hero and it gives us something more to ponder as we continue to search for more information.
        So here we were on a street of irony – on one side of Inchicore Road, a fine-looking military hospital and cemetery honoring those who have gone before, now peacefully housing artful collections of contemporary paintings and sculpture; and on the other, just a short walk, really, the infamous jail known for its appallingly miserable conditions and intentionally dread-filled physically and psychologically abusive treatment of inmates, including children at times, from its inception to its bitter end.  The street where two state facilities had opposing missions.  One existed to care for and celebrate the lives of its residents and the interred.  The other existed to punish and denigrate the lives of its interned.
It is no coincidence that many such places in Europe
and elsewhere arose amidst the many Rebellions and Revolutions
of the late 18th Century

       We did not have time to tour the jail but we did take time to go through the three exhibit floors of the museum.   Having immersed myself in Irish history in preparation for this trip, learning more each day we traveled, having read yet more since my return, I hardly knew where to start when approaching this piece.  Kilmainham Jail stirred my heart. 
       I worked in a variety of positions in the criminal courts and prisons for more than 15 years, personally with thousands of prisoners from petty offenders to drug dealers, rapists and murderers, male and female.  I ran support groups for HIV/AIDS inmates and inmates who were victims of domestic violence.  I led dozens of workshops on sexual assault with the general population of inmates and with small groups of sex offenders.   I’ve been in prisons in several US states and have toured one of our lesser known but equally infamous, Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.   As bad as some of our jails and prisons are in this country, nothing I’ve seen here meets the awful truths of Kilmainham.

Inhuman isolation of prisoners was a
hallmark of this cold and grim institution

Down to the Dungeons
        There are billions of words already written more eloquent and accurate than mine at easy access for anyone who wants to know more.  Yet of the 128 years of its existence, with so many eras from which to choose, the period that speaks the loudest to me is the time of the Easter Rising in 1916.
Interior Exercise Yard
       Perhaps it is because it was in the living memory of those elders of my family who spoke of it when “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland of the 1960s,70s, 80s and beyond were in the headlines along with Viet Nam and our own unsettled cities and towns wrestling with civil rights, riots, and assassinations. Or maybe it seems a romantic notion to fight and die for one’s beliefs, that is, until you look closer. 

       Mostly it is because of the long history of rebellions and risings in this land of my ancestors who fought, killed, and died to have their own country for themselves without the interference, imposition, and subjugation of a predator nation hell-bent on building its own prosperity on the backs of the native peoples.  And, by the way, that particular nation didn’t treat its own working classes altogether well, either.  Hmmm, doesn’t seem to be a unique history after all.
       The Easter Monday event in 1916 was meant to be a national uprising but ended up as 2500 armed insurgents holding the General Post Office and other public buildings in Dublin for 5 days after declaring the Proclamation of the Republic.  It was quashed swiftly and severely and might have been just another nuisance rebellion that went the way of so many others over so many centuries.  But 14 of the leaders were immediately court-martialled and their executions were exceptionally brutal. 

       James Connolly, for example, was badly wounded during the Rising, so badly in fact, he had to be strapped to a chair to be shot by the firing squad.  Public opinion, not only in Ireland but around the world, even in Britain, suddenly turned and saw these men as martyrs in what became a War of Independence.  The day of The Republic was nearly at hand albeit not for the entire country. 

       One of those leaders who escaped execution was the American born Eamon de Valera who became Prime Minister of the Republic and later, President.  He was one of the lucky ones and the last prisoner held at Kilmainham being released in July 1924.  Michael Collins became Chairman of the Irish Free State and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and then was shot to death in an ambush in County Cork in 1922. 
       The most poignant story of the Rising, for me, is that of Grace Gifford and the tubercular poet Joseph Plunkett.  Their early personal and family histories seem to belie the trajectory of their lives.  I mentioned the song “Grace” above – its lyrics are based on the last message that Joseph sent to Grace and their last meeting.  They were engaged and supposed to be married on Easter Day but because of the scheduled rebellion, the wedding was postponed though not for long.  They were married a few hours before he was executed by firing squad and she herself was later imprisoned there briefly.  The song is haunting and although the lyrics follow here, it can also be heard at: YouTube: Grace

GRACE by Frank and Sean O’Meara
As we gather in the chapel here in old Kilmainham Jail  
 I think about these past few weeks, oh will they say we've failed
From our schooldays they have told us we must yearn for liberty
Yet all I want in this dark place is to have you here with me.

Oh Grace just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger
They'll take me out at dawn and I will die
With all my love I place this wedding ring upon your finger
There won't be time to share our love for we must say goodbye.
Now I know it's hard for you my love to ever understand
The love I bear for these brave men, my love for this dear land
 But when the Padhraic called me to his side down in the GPO
 I had to leave my own sick bed, to him I had to go
Now as dawn is breaking, my heart is breaking too,
On this May morn as I walk out my thoughts well be of you
And I'll write some words upon the wall so everyone will know
I love so much that I could see his blood upon the rose.
[emphasis mine, refers to Plunkett’s most famous poem, “His Blood Upon the Rose”]
       Perhaps to some readers it all seems a bit soap-opera like and overly sentimental.  And while I was captivated by the tune and the lyrics 25 years ago, I was stunned by the connections I made in Kilmainham on this trip to the very real people who inhabit the story.

On the third shelf down on the far right is the notebook that
Joseph Plunkett used to send his last message to Grace. 
Grace herself donated it and other articles for the Kilmainham Museum

       It is far more than the mere romantic emotions that connect me to that time and those people.  It is the very real questions that arise for me, today in my own time, in my own country: 
-When is a Patriot a Traitor; when does a Hero become a Villain?
-What does it mean to “Take Our Country Back” - from whom and for what? 
-Is it the intent of those who chant such slogans that all First Nation people rise up to reclaim their ancient patrimonies?
-Is a Patriot only one who agrees with your “cause”, or ideology and those who do not become worthy of execution?  
-When do my individual rights and freedoms cross a line to deny you yours? 
-When is my belief system rational and yours extreme? 
-How can I "take my country back" without stealing it from you?
-Whose God is the most faithful; what is heresy?
 And, who decides?   

Looking over the walls toward
the Kilmainham Courthouse

       The old saw of “who doesn’t study history is doomed to repeat it” has been replaced – it is now “those who do study history are doomed to stand helplessly by while others repeat it.”  I am not the one with the answers to the questions, nor the one with solutions.  But what I do believe is that those who purport to be in charge of  ______  country, city, economic system, etc. (fill in the blank for yourself), seem to stand shoulder to shoulder with their nemeses and all look over Kilmainham’s walls each seeing superiority of their own needs, wants, desires, and rights, and the lack of same for the other. 
       Those who led the Rising in 1916 live among us today in the hearts and minds of anyone who wants justice tempered with mercy, as well as health, home, and the fulfillment of basic human needs for all. But it seems their actions may have been in vain.
       The world is still filled with hatred and prejudice carefully cultivated and manipulated by some to keep the many breathing despair and frustration in intentional communities of “us” vs “them”.  When we, wittingly or un-, give the “some” the power to create our mindsets, our opinions, and even our actions for their own purposes and satisfaction, we lose our individual perspectives and therefore the ability to give thoughtful response.  We then fall into the easier thoughtless reaction which begets thoughtless reaction which foments more despair and frustration.  It's a trap and I fell in!  BUT STOP….breathe…

More than just the name of a champion horse,
it is a mantra for life!
       As I reviewed the postings I have written about my brief time in Ireland this year against the stark realities of Kilmainham as a symbol of yesterday and today, I felt lost in a maze of my own creation.  How do I write an ending to this series to balance the beauty and spirit of a place against the knowing that much of what I saw was carefully constructed by the tour company and the guide?  After all, I came to intentionally see the beauty and the spirit of this land and its people and I did. And if you came to my hometown, I would take you on a tour of the best places, avoiding “those” places that are sad, miserable, and even dangerous at times.  I wandered off the track and into Kilmainham.  That experience has been simmering in my heart and head for the last several months and I have yet to figure out quite what to do with it.

       When I am in my everyday life it is easy to get sucked into the vortex of helplessness and hopelessness, anger and frustration with so many people of the world in dire circumstances.  But we all need to breathe in the fresh air of the Spring that always comes after the winter.  I cannot fix the world, I can only work on my participation in it and give my best thoughtful response to it. I must seek opportunities for the development, care, and feeding of my own Invincible Spirit.

Flying Home from Dublin

       My journey through Ireland has ended for this time.  My journey through life continues.  There are more questions than answers, more insights and more dilemmas, moments of helplessness, moments of determination.  Each day becomes another, and the Spring always returns.
And there will always be more to say...    

  I do want to acknowledge Globus Tours, and particularly Carmel and Donal, for an extraordinary adventure.  Their planning, timing, intinerary, and accommodations far exceeded my expectations.  I could do it all over again!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

EireLandings ~ Part Penultimate ~ Weaving Our Way Back to Dublin

Famine-era Emigrant Ship "The Dunbrody" at New Ross

Bright sunshine and a beautiful blue sky met us as we boarded the bus for our last full day in Ireland.  Leaving the city of Waterford, we headed for Avoca and the sites were plentiful and lovely as always.  One of our first was at New Ross on the River Barrow and on the South Quay dock is The Dunbrody.  The ship is a full-scale reconstruction of a cargo vessel that carried emigrants to the US and Canada during the famine of the mid-19th century.  Over a million died, exact numbers are unknown, and over a million fled.  Some who left were fortunate enough to have their passage paid by caring landowners, most were left to their own devices, many sending only their children while they stayed behind for almost certain death. 

       We passed the ever-scenic fields and pastures on our way.  And soon, we arrived at our morning's destination, the Avoca weaving mill, the oldest in Ireland and operating continuously since 1723.

       The beautiful colors of the yarns and threads made the gorgeous day even brighter.  After a brief history lesson about the mill and the evolution of weaving technologies we took a tour to see the weaving machines in operation.  Favorite Daughters and Aunts decided quickly that I should be doing this in addition to my other needlework hobbies of knitting, needlepoint, embroidery, quilting, and sew-on...(yes, I said that).  I am not an expert in any of them but I do enjoy them and I do appreciate seeing how such things are done.  These machines were amazing - it would take me 5 years just to learn how to thread them!

         I've seen hand looms and watched people weaving a variety of items from cloth to rugs and of course, this was exponentially different because of the machines.  The fine quality of the fabrics produced requires personal tactile experience to fully appreciate.

       And what was especially delicious was seeing the tremendous and unexpected color range of the pieces being produced through the magic of these complicated looms.

Not your Granny's grey herringbone!
I could almost taste the flavors the colors conjured up for me and I
wanted so much to wrap myself up in the luxurious textures. 

       Our tour extended - of course! - into the shop, and while I bought only a couple of pairs of socks I know will caress my happy feet this fall, seeing all that was available was a feast of delight for my eyes and fingers! 
       On the bus again, we drove through the main street of Avoca which was the setting for the UK tv series "Ballykissangel".  The series, though long ended, shows up on US Public Broadcasting stations, sometimes in late night.  It was a funny, endearing, and sometimes poignant look at "everyday" life in a small Irish town where the center of life was, naturally, the Pub.  I discovered it a few years ago and have seen most of the episodes over time but it was only recently that I saw one of the later ones and was completely shocked at the stunning turn of events that, for me, hit all too close to home.  While that particular show left me slightly shaken, seeing the actual Fitzgerald's Pub,  Hendley's store, and the Church that I watched in my small tv room at home lightened the memory of all the many episodes and characters I enjoyed.
       Then we came to
             The Wicklow Mountains
  which hold special magic for me with its myriad myths and legends. This wild country of bogland, pasture, fields and mountains is barely an hour's drive from Dublin and the air is crisp with romance, adventure, and anguish.  This granite stronghold was a sacred safe haven where rebellious native Irish warlords took refuge through many centuries against all invaders who sought to steal and subdue the land they lived, loved, and died for.  And amidst those stories is the backdrop of the spiritual center of Glendalough.
       The weather began to turn drizzly as we pulled into the grounds of this 6th century site.   We went through the visitor center for information about the history of the monastic community founded by St. Kevin which was very well done.  Then we were off to this "Valley of Two Lakes" which is the literal meaning of Glendalough.  We had only a limited time to see the site or the lakes and have lunch and shop for souvenirs.  

Gateway to Glendalough Monastic Community

       We walked up the steps and through the gate and entered a landscape of the ancients, peaceful and quiet even with so many tourists wandering about.  Because we were on an escorted tour, we were able to go into the small stone chapel.  The darkness when the door closed was deeper than the darkest night I've experienced and it was more than comforting to have the door opened as it was the only source of light.  I wasn't able to get to the nearby lakes as I was too busy looking at the grounds and buildings at hand.

Glendalough Chapel

       The sun shone again and it was easy to imagine the early community life not only in the best of weather, but also in the rain and damp, the snow and cold.  My admiration for those who lived it, especially those who felt called to the life and were content within it, is unbounded.  It is not the life for me, for any length of time anyway.  Perhaps a few days, if the weather is right and the restaurant down the road is open...

Oldest intact round tower in the country
       Another brief shower left us a little damp and happy to find a hot cup of soup and cup of tea, a few souvenirs, and a sweet sense of being in a place where life was precious and wholly holy for those who endured and those who thrived.

       Suddenly we had to leave a spot where there was not enough time to see all and know more.  We settled into our seats and headed for the final afternoon in Ireland, back in Dublin. 

     In spite of knowing it is not a life I am called to, I was moved and comforted by the sense of spirit I experienced in my short visit to Glendalough.  However, I had no idea that that the most moving and emotionally challenging moments of this journey were just ahead.  Next time, Kilmainham.