My grandmother left her home in the Croaghs, also called the Blue Stack Mountains, in the wilderness of Northwest Donegal, Ireland one morning. She was twenty-four years old. Her name was Margaret and she grew up on a farm as one of thirteen children. One by one the children in her family left home. I remember her saying that sometimes they would start out very early in the morning on the day they were to leave for good, well before dawn, to avoid saying what may have been a final goodbye. I don’t know if she did or not, but on the day she left she wouldn’t return for the next fifty-nine years.
I was with her when she went back to her first home. There was a party in her honor. The tiny house out in the mountains was full of her nieces and nephews, and their children. She sat on the sofa in between her only remaining siblings, her sisters Ellen and Cassie (who were both IHM sisters dressed in habits). There was fiddle music, singing, an enormous amount of food and drink, and the party went on late into the night. I was seventeen at the time and, as many teenagers are, totally self-absorbed. I think back now to how she clutched at my arm as we drove through the winding hills on our way there. I didn’t grasp then that she was scared. She was unsure. In order to survive the changes she experienced as she transitioned to life in America she had been forced to see herself as someone else. During my childhood she had rarely spoken of her life in Ireland, always dismissing my questions. Never wanting to reminisce. In order to move forward I think she had to convince herself that there was nothing worth looking back at.
There has been so much change in my life lately. Life is change, I know. It is a series of ever shifting moments and those moments, strung together, make up a life. Understanding that doesn’t make it any less difficult. Change is scary and hard and often times painful. It’s been painful for me. There have been so many tears, so much fatigue. Clinging is exhausting.
My grandmother passed away two years ago. She was ninety-three years old. But she was very much with me when I went back to see her first home this week with my dad, my aunt and two cousins. As we wound around the tiny roads, climbing higher and higher into the mountains I thought about her leaving her home for the last time. I thought about how I have recently left my heart’s home for the last time. I thought about how my heart hurt, just like my grandmother’s must have. Even when you are choosing to move one, even when you know you need to, change is hard. It can feel like you are dying, and to be fair, a piece of your ego is. The part of me that identified with where I was, what I was doing and what value I thought that gave me, has to die in order for me to be free and move forward. The courage to face these “little deaths”, and the wisdom to allow them to happen, that is why I practice in the first place. I know this. I know that I’ve been clinging desperately to the near past in my heart and in my head. It’s invaded everything. It’s invaded my muscles and joints and my breath. I know that only through surrender will I find relief. Surrender, surprisingly, requires a lot of strength.
I finally asked myself the question I’ve needed to ask since the wheels of change have started to turn. Alone at 6 am, on a moon day that I couldn’t make myself sleep in for, on a bench next to the Lief River in Dublin. Sitting there as the city started to wake up, I finally felt safe and strong enough to have this very private conversation with myself sitting on a public bench. I guess it was as good a place as any.
I asked, “What are you so afraid of?”
“I don’t know where I belong now. I‘m afraid that I’m lost and I’ll never be found.”
And the answer came, quiet but certain, “You belong here, right where you are. You belong now. You are not lost and you have never not belonged”
I sat there for another little while, smiling to myself as the sky got brighter. And I knew it was true. I walked back to my hotel about an hour later and I think I may have left a tiny little piece of my ego behind. It was a good walk, and I felt more at home than I had in a long time.