Coming full circle, Part III

I stared at him, kneeling in the sand, holding a glittering diamond ring… and started laughing. I’m not talking a giggle. I’m talking a deep-bellied, whole-body-shaking, tears-streaming-down-my-face, LAUGH.

I had to sit down on a piece of driftwood to regain control. A yes squeaked out at some point, because soon he was placing the ring on my finger, causing even more laughter. Forcing myself to take deep breaths, I looked around us. We were sitting on the Flaggy Shore in County Clare, Ireland and it had all come full circle.

It had started with a poem, then took me to independence, and now was giving me the gift of complete and total happiness. This journey had been five years, two trips to Ireland, and countless readings of “Postscript” in the making.

My then-fiance, now-husband chose the Flaggy Shore very carefully as his spot to propose. He knew it was a place I had claimed as my own, but he wanted to share it. Not take it from me, but share it. It was also an important part of his own history, as his ancestors had immigrated to America from County Clare. So he knelt on one knee and endured my guffaws on that little stretch of coastline because he knew that marriage was about two histories coming together to create a new, combined history, a better history.

There have been only a handful of times in my life when I felt the universe was pointing me in one direction. As we walked back along the mostly deserted path, I experienced one of these instances. There was a woman ahead of us, walking a little brown and white dog. “Bingo!” I called. The dog stopped, cocked its head at me and trotted over.

“How did you know his name?” the woman asked.

“I met him a few years ago, when I was here for the first time. We walked together.” I felt tears, happy tears swim in my vision as I watched them walk away. Something about seeing that little dog again, my companion on my first journey to happiness, told me I had just embarked on another.

Every day I am grateful for the poem, the dog, the country, the shoreline, and the love that brought me full circle. And happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all!

Rainbow across the Burren

Coming full circle, Part II

Yesterday’s post was the introduction to a poem that has given me so much to be grateful for. Today, we’ll travel over to the Emerald Isle and  meet, for the first time, the physical manifestation of all that gratitude. I hope you enjoy, and come back tomorrow for the final chapter (thus far).

It was raining when I arrived at the Shannon Airport. Water clouded the windows and made the idea of leaving the airport’s shelter anything but appealing. Gathering my bags and zipping up my light jacket, I stepped through the automatic doors and into the misty rain. The puddles in the parking lot soaked my jeans as I hunted for the bus that would take me to Galway. I finally found it and climbed into its warm, dry interior. I was in Ireland and I had no idea where to start my search for the Flaggy Shore.

“And some time, make the time to drive out west,

Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore…”

Seamus Heaney’s poem, “Postscript” had lured me away from sunny Spain where I was studying, to the cold, damp Emerald Isle. I had been in Europe a month, attending a Spanish language school and struggling with the difficulties of being a foreign exchange student. Before leaving the U.S., I booked my ticket to Ireland with only a vague idea of what I would do once I got there. It was now the end of September and I was doing my best to make the time, as the poem suggested, to go west to County Clare and find the Flaggy Shore where I was promised I would discover a wild, glittering ocean, swans flocking to quiet lakes, and have an experience that would catch my heart off guard and blow it open. In short, I was looking to be inspired. Instead, I was soaked with rainwater and wondering what I was doing in this place that was foreign to me in every sense of the word.

After reaching my hostel in Galway, I found a map and examined every crevice of the country, searching for a sign of the Flaggy Shore. I came up with nothing. Sighing, I contemplated my options. I could either hope that the Flaggy Shore magically appeared on its own, or I could go looking for it, via a tour bus that would take me along the coast of County Clare. I figured that somewhere along the day tour I would run into the elusive piece of shoreline I had followed to Ireland. I booked my trip that same day and awoke early the next morning to catch the bus.

One of our first stops along the tour was at the Burren, or “rocky place.” In admiring the Burren, I saw a different version of what Heaney wrote about. Rather than the wind and light working off one another, I saw rocks and plants doing the same thing, making the landscape more beautiful by its opposing elements blended so harmoniously. Thankfully, though, I did find one piece of the poem’s picture of the Flaggy Shore: the grey lakes created by the stones. The Burren provided the perfect setting for small ponds to form after heavy Irish rains.

But my reliving of the poem ended there. By the day’s end, I had moved on to resignation. Maybe the Flaggy Shore and the essence of “Postscript” would forever escape me.

I tried to put my energies into focusing on the positive aspects of the trip: I was experiencing a new country, I was drinking Guinness in its homeland, I was meeting interesting people, I was being an independent woman, traveling by myself for the first time in my life. Still, I was feeling disappointed and filled my new journal with what I considered to be superficial travel notes. I viewed the absence of the Flaggy Shore in the leather-bound pages as a failure.

The next day I booked a hostel in Kinvara, a small village located in County Clare, a half hour’s drive south of Galway. I figured I might as well see a little more of the country while I was there.

Kinvara from across the bay

Kinvara from across the bay

The bus pulled into its stop in Kinvara and I descended. Not seeing the hostel on the main street, I asked a woman sweeping the sidewalk in front of one of the many pubs if she knew where it was. She told me the only hostel she knew of was about three miles up the road. I glanced at the heavy overnight bag uncomfortably slung across my shoulder, and inwardly groaned at the idea of hauling it more than a block or two. I went to a café and sat drinking coffee, considering my options. I asked the two girls working there if they had any suggestions for me, and they recommended I go to the grocery store across the street and ask if anyone was going towards my destination. I followed their advice, and a man and his young daughter offered to take me all the way to the hostel.

In typical Irish fashion, the man immediately began talking and asking me questions. I told him I was from Montana and he guessed that, being from Montana, I liked to take walks. Translating “walks” to “hikes”, I said, yes, I liked to take walks very much. “Well then you should try to make it over to the Flaggy Shore,” he told me. “It’s only about seven miles from where you’re staying.” My breath caught in my throat and it took every ounce of self-control I had to keep myself from yelling with joy. As calmly as I possibly could, I told him why I had come to Ireland. “Oh Seamus Heaney, yes, I know him,” he replied. “I went to law school at Harvard while he was a professor there.” This time, an excited squeak escaped me. I could not believe it. After giving up any hope of reaching the Flaggy Shore, this man had given me directions straight to it, and had provided me with a story to tell. I thanked him profusely and jumped out of his SUV the second we reached the hostel’s doorstep. I spotted swans flocking to a bay across the field, and smiled.

I dropped my bag off at the hostel, grabbed my camera, and started walking. I walked and walked, until I ran upon a small grocery store. “Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to the Flaggy Shore, please?” I asked the old woman behind the counter. Her response, given in the thickest Irish accent I had heard yet, was nearly unintelligible. From what I understood, I had to go to the main road, then turn right. I did so, but after about another hour of walking, my anxiety over the doubtful directions and the darkening sky coaxed me to stick out my thumb. I had never hitchhiked before and was a bit hesitant at first. Luckily, a nice German woman picked me up and dropped me off about fifty yards from the shore. I shouted my thanks back to her and practically ran to the sign that read, “Flaggy Shore.”

Flaggy Shore

I stood there for a moment, taking everything in. The grin on my face refused to go away as I strolled along the footpath. An elderly man and a dog were walking just behind me, and I started a conversation with the man. Giddy, I rattled off my entire story while he smiled and nodded along. He introduced the dog, Bingo, and told me Bingo loved to take walks with new people. The man walked ahead and Bingo became my fellow traveler along the Flaggy Shore. We stepped off the path and onto the rocks. I sat down to eat my lunch of Irish soda bread and Dublin cheese while Bingo sniffed around. I took in the stark landscape, rocky and gray. The glittering waves crashed against the rust-colored rocks and I scanned the pools for swans. Finally, my image of this stretch of coastline had a physical manifestation. It was subtler than I had imagined, with its colors hiding in the water and in the periodic rays of sunshine. There was no hint of the Irish green that had dominated the landscape up until this point. It was quietly barren, so different from everything else I had seen. This I realized, was why it deserved to be the subject of a great poem. Rather than creating yet another ode to the green Irish hillsides that would certainly be thrown in with all the other praises already sung to such a stereotypical landscape, Heaney had found the extraordinary, understated as it was. Sitting there, I felt the most content and complete I had ever felt in my life.

The following evening, I found myself once again at the Shannon Airport. My plane was not scheduled to leave until the following morning, but, due to a college student’s traveling budget, I had planned on sleeping in the airport. Curled up in a hard, metal seat, I reflected on how I had changed since my last visit, just six days earlier, to this same spot. It was nothing glaringly obvious. No life-altering decisions had been made. But I had changed, undoubtedly so. I burrowed under my blanket and dozed off with the sound of an Irish breeze and glittering waves playing in my mind, lulling me to sleep.

Coming full circle, Part I

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this weekend’s posts on gratitudeequation will tell a gratitude-filled story of how Ireland has given me my place in this world. I hope you’ll tune in for all three posts, and most of all I hope they inspire you to think about the places in your life that have given you more than you could have expected. Enjoy!

The room was hot and windowless and my British Literature professor’s voiced resembled the droning buzz of a bee. My eyes blinked, once, twice, over and over until I snapped myself to attention again.

I needed a distraction, and her lecture was not providing it. I wandered through my textbook, ignoring the section on Byron we were covering, flipping to the back. I turned the page and found this:

Image

 

I had never been a great lover of poetry until that moment. It woke me up, not just in the overheated classroom, but in life. I needed to read more of this poet, Seamus Heaney’s work. I needed to go to the Flaggy Shore in September or October. I wanted to feel something so strongly that it could blow my heart open.

That day, I was grateful for the poem because it awakened something in me that hadn’t been there before. It awakened some realization that I was a small, but vital piece, “neither here nor there, a hurry through which known and strange things pass,” to a much larger puzzle. That’s why I was grateful for the poem then, at the age of 20.

Today, seven years later, I have so many bigger, more earth-shattering reasons to be grateful for that poem. It gave me the only experience I will ever be able to say is truly my own. It gave me confidence that I had struggled to find prior. It gave me proof that all the little things really do come full circle in the form of something much, much bigger.

How, you ask? That’s a story for tomorrow, when we’ll cross an ocean, hitchhike our way along the coast, and meet a friend of a friend. I’m grateful for the chance to share it with you, and I hope you’ll come along.

Confession time

Confession time. There are days when I’m not feeling overly grateful. For those days, I turn to The List. The List includes all those gratitude-worthy moments I’ve experienced on my super gratitude-filled days. It’s my compilation of oh-no-it’s-10:00pm-and-I-haven’t -felt-any-bursts-of-inspiration-today items. So I pick a topic from The List and write about it. It’s typically a great exercise, as it gets me back on the figurative gratitude horse.

Today was one of those days that I thought I was going to need to cherry pick from that list. And then, a small miracle occurred. At 5:12pm, as I was still working away at the office, one of my coworkers (who works at a separate office location) emailed me and asked if I wanted to go grab a drink. Let me think… YES. Today had been a great day, very successful from my career point of view, but nothing I thought anyone would relate to as far as writing a blog post goes.

So my coworker and I headed over to the brewery. We joked about our days, swapped stories about our husbands, and traded shopping secrets. Somewhere into my second beer I realized that I might just be making a new friend here. I’ve had the same tight-knit group of friends since college, and never felt totally comfortable bringing someone new into our group. But sitting next to me at the bar was this fun, funny, intelligent woman who loved watching The Bachelor as much as my girlfriends.

Which means that you guys are not reading an item from The List today. You’re reading an in-the-moment lightening bolt of gratitude. Gratitude for my friends new and old, and gratitude for the little surprises at the end of a day.

How about you? As the work week is winding down, what are you most grateful for? Oh, and just a heads up to everyone: tomorrow starts a special Irish version of gratitudeequation. I mean, it is St. Patrick’s Day weekend, after all! Tune in tomorrow through Sunday to hear why I owe everything to the most beautiful isle I’ve ever visited.

The audacity of Gen Y

Kids these days. Who do they think they are? Pushing for equal rights, for equal pay, for the change they want to make in the world.

I’m grateful to be part of such a dynamic generation, but that isn’t the focus of my post today. The focus of my post is on those kids who are at the tail-end of Generation Y, the high schoolers and middle schoolers who impress me day in and day out.

I mentor a 13 year old girl at the local middle school once a week. The first time we met, we had a “get to know you” questionnaire to fill out together. After questions like, “What’s your favorite food?” What is your favorite thing to do on a Saturday?” we got to, “What is the most important thing you learned in the last year?”

“Um, it would probably be something that has to do with my job,” I said. “So… yeah. My job.” Wow, I can be so eloquent when the mood strikes me.

Without missing a beat, this little 13 year old beside me said, “I learned that it’s more important to have friends who really care about you than it is to be popular.”

Oh dear. I was way out of my depth here. This kid obviously knew a lot more about life than I did. Barely in her teens, she had grasped a concept I still struggled with. And her belief in that statement did not stop with her words. I saw her interact with classmates and friends, and it was clear she frankly did not give a damn about social status. Naturally, that made everyone like her that much more.

More recently, I became involved with a “gender equality club” at the high school. When I started my job last spring at a local non-profit, I was told this group of high schoolers loved volunteering for the organization. Subconsciously, I thought two things: 1. That’s great that they say they want to volunteer, but I bet I can’t count on them. They’re just high schoolers. 2. A high school club that promotes gender equality? It must be a bunch of girls.

They offered to volunteer at our fall fundraising event. Thirty of them had signed up, but I only assigned volunteer posts to fifteen, feeling certain that no more than half the teenagers would show up to volunteer at 6:30am on a Saturday. At 6:35, I had over thirty eager faces, both boys and girls, awaiting my instructions.

While I’m proud to be part of my generation, that’s not why I’m writing today. I’m writing because these kids floor me with their generosity and dedication. At this rate, the world’s problems will be solved within twenty years. I’d say that’s something to be grateful for.

Best Moment Award

I am so honored to receive the Best Moment Award today! 

Best Moment Award, web awards, blogging awards, winners, nominations

Awarding the people who live in the moment,
The noble who write and capture the best in life,
The bold who reminded us what really mattered –
Savoring the experience of quality time.

RULES:

Winners re-post this completely with their acceptance speech. This could be written or video recorded.

Winners have the privilege of awarding the next awardees! The re-post should include a NEW set of people/blogs worthy of the award; and winners notify them the great news.

Acceptance Speech

Humbled? Yeah, you could say that. You could most definitely say that. When I started this blog last month, I never dreamed people would actually read it. For them to not only read it, but to like it? Unfathomable. Yet here we are, thanks to tworedtornadoes, who, by the way, has an exquisite writing style. But before I move forward, I’d like to take a few steps back.

My mother made me a published author at age three. She still has the book, the only copy of my first “published” story. My first grade teachers were the next to invest a whole lot of time and effort into my writing. Each month, they allowed every student to submit a story for publication, to be completed with a typewriter and cardboard cover. I was hooked. I, I told everyone I met, was going to be a writer.

And then, slowly, I realized this wasn’t something I could say I was going to “be” when I grew up. It made people smile in a knowing way that communicated, “How adorable. She still has hopes and dreams.” And so I started saying I was going to be something a bit more mainstream: a journalist, a grant writer, a teacher. These responses earned me a respectable nod and a, “Oh you’ll make a great (insert writing-affiliated career here).”

Then one day I woke up and that career wasn’t enough anymore. It was confining, allowing for minimal creativity in my writing. So I joined all of you, the blogging world, and felt like I was back in the first grade. Today I’m grateful for all of you who have liked my posts, become my followers, and most of all, for those who have taken time to comment. You take me back to the first time I wrote a story and saw the words come to life. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Most of all, I want to thank tworedtornadoes for encouraging me and finding my work worthy of this award. Secondly, I want to thank Michelle at Play for her upbeat, happiness-ridden blog. Michelle at Play, you’re my pick for this award. Congrats!

Dear Mrs. Sperry: A letter to my past

Yesterday’s gratitude challenge was to write a letter to someone who has positively impacted your life. I figured I’d better put my pen where my post was, and started writing.

Dear Mrs. Sperry,

I paused. I hadn’t seen this woman since I was 17 years old. She, at the time, had been 82. She sent my parents a card very Christmas since we moved away from our neighborhood in Phoenix in 1989. She and her husband, Bill, had been our next door neighbors, our pseudo grandparents in my early years. We have countless family videos of me at age three, curly blonde ponytail sticking out, and Mrs. Sperry smiling in the background. In her mind, I was probably still a toddler with a squeaky little voice.

So I didn’t write much about the me of today; I wrote about the me she knew. I told her that every year at Christmas I still put out the little Santa doll she gave me, and that I still remembered her inviting us over to pick oranges from her backyard grove. I thanked her for staying in touch with my family for all these years and for keeping us in the loop on the old neighborhood. I told her I was sorry to hear Bill had passed away, but that I hoped her son was doing well and still lived nearby. I thanked her for the memories.

Putting the envelope in the mailbox, I said a silent prayer that she would receive it. It took me too long to realize a letter is always a welcome surprise, that I did have something worth writing to an old friend. So to all my friends, watch out. Your mailboxes are about to be flooded with letters from me, because I’m so very grateful for each and every one of you.

Who else has completed this week’s gratitude challenge? I’d love to hear all about your experience.

Gratitude Challenge #1 is waiting to bring you joy

We’re starting something new over here at gratitude equation. Every Sunday, I’ll be posting a gratitude challenge for everyone to take part in. It will help us get our week off to a very grateful start, and share the joy a bit! The first weekly challenge is below. Please feel free to comment on this post to share the results of meeting your gratitude challenge, because I would love to hear all about it! Then go ahead and challenge your friends and family to complete it as well. We’re starting a gratitude movement! I hope you all enjoy it:

Gratitude challenge #1

Sink or swim, it’s time we dive in

Many of my friends are artists on the side. They, like me, have some passion they work on nights and weekends when their 9-5 job is over for the day. We’re all a little shy about our projects, making light of them whenever anyone asks about how we’re progressing.

And then there’s my friend Meredith, an artist who dove straight in and within a couple of short years has quit that 9-5 job and is supporting her family solely through her art. We went out for beers at the new brewery in town last night, and her confidence made me grateful to know her. She doesn’t apologize for her artistic hopes and dreams, doesn’t downplay them. Instead, she proudly creates art like this:

Birdware Pottery

And then she sells it. For her, it’s just that easy. Her pride in her work made me question mine. My husband is the only person I know who is aware I have a blog and two unfinished novels hiding in my bedside drawer. The truth is, I’m terrified at failing as a writer, so prefer to let everyone think I’m, well, NOT a writer.

Instead of letting that fear dictate my actions, shouldn’t I instead be grateful there are at least 24 people out there (based off my last count of followers) that think my words are worth reading every now and then? Shouldn’t we all embrace gratitude and shun fear?

The answer is, of course, yes. But should and will are two different things. So I’ll continue to take my baby steps forward in my quest to be simply grateful for my talents and dreams. I hope you will too.

Oh, and be sure to check out Birdware Pottery!

Happiness is as easy as 1, 2, 3 (4, 5)

When seeking happiness, we have two choices: we can either chase after it, or sit back and realize it’s already sitting in the corner, waiting for us to notice. Happiness is in every laugh, every thought-provoking conversation, every good book, every hug, every day of sunshine. All we have to do is be grateful.

I’ve read a number of excellent posts today on the importance of contentedness. The theme of each was the same: enough already! It’s time to stop running after something we already have. That being said, we will all have those down days in which we don’t want to put any energy into being grateful. For those days, try this exercise and see if it doesn’t make you just a teensy bit happier:

Step 1: Write down one thing in your immediate vision that makes you grateful. It could be the couch your sitting on, the book on your bedside table, or the cup of coffee in your hand.

Step 2: Write down one person that makes you feel grateful. If it’s your spouse who is causing your sour mood, think of that friend who will listen to your complaints. If your boss is making life difficult, think of the coworker who has your back.

Step 3: Indulge in your surroundings. Surroundings are something we can’t easily change, so embrace yours. If it’s raining outside, curl up with a good movie and a cup of tea. If the sun is shining, go play frisbee with the dog. You’ll be surprised how your perspective can shift when you fully accept something you can’t control.

Step 4: Have one thing that always, always makes you laugh. For me, I nearly always bust up at The Daily Show’s “Moment of Zen.” Laughing will release the stress and give you instantaneous joy, right there in the moment.

Step 5: You should be feeling just a bit better now. All that’s left is for you to do something nice for someone else. It might just be shoveling your neighbor’s walk, or it might be calling up an old friend. Hey, it could even be reblogging a great post you read! My mantra remains, Want more? Give more.

Want more reminders of why we should be happy in the here and now? Check out these great posts: http://bepaulin.wordpress.com/2013/03/09/enough-already/, http://melissabear.wordpress.com/2013/03/09/gratitude-attitude-the-gratitude-journal/

So today, I’m grateful that happiness is waiting for me, inviting me to take a seat and stop chasing it. I think I’ll take it up on that.

A happy invitation