Friday, September 25, 2009

Pilgrimage - Day 7, Sept. 16, 2009

From Clonmacnoise we went into the city of Galway to spend the night. The next morning, we set out for a drive through another landscape of Ireland, Connemara, or as more often spelled in the US, Conamara.

As we were learning, different areas have their own unique characteristics, but each has its own beauty. Though we have now been away from home a week, we have moved into a timeless realm where days and dates have slipped from our awareness as we soak in the new offerings of the continuing experience.

Conamara is the area of Ireland from which the late writer, John O’Donohue, came. We have carried with us and read from his book, Anam Cara. Especially as we rode through these hills and by the lakes, we thought of his writings. I quote here from “Reflection from Conamara” on his website:

It takes us a long time to see where we are. It takes even longer to see who we are. This is why the greatest gift you could ever dream is a gift that you can only receive from one person… yourself. Therefore, the most subversive invitation you could ever accept is the invitation to awaken to who you are and where you have landed.

That last sentence was the challenge of this pilgrimage for us. As we absorbed the beauty of the heather and gorse on the hillsides, the lakes and streams, we were learning to be fully present in the moment, to live the lives we have been given and to come to know who we are. Without the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, we were free to tune in to a different way of being.

In that frame of mind we came to Kylemore Castle/Abbey. This was a very different spot from the previous ones we had visited in that it is much more recent. Built in the 1800’s as a home, it featured a wonderful Victorian garden that has been restored to fruitfulness by the Benedictine Nuns who established an abbey on the estate in 1920. The abbey at present also houses an international girls’ secondary boarding school, which we learned will close in 2010, though the abbey will remain.

From Kylemore Abbey, we traveled to the dock to catch the ferry to Inis Mor, one of the Aran Islands off the coast of western Ireland. As we waited, wind off the water whipped around us giving us one of the chillier moments of our travel, since we had been blessed with amazingly good weather to this point.

While we waited for the ferry to arrive, a funeral procession pulled past us on the dock. The family climbed out of cars that then left, but the hearse waited. When the ferry arrived, a wooden casket was moved from hearse to ferry, and the family were the first people allowed on board. While crossing the water to Inis Mor, our leaders, Linda and Kathy, learned that the deceased was being taken home to the island for burial. After conversation with family members, Kathy gave a St. Brigid’s cross she’d made at Glendalough to the family. When the casket was removed from the ferry and loaded onto a lorry on Inis Mor, the St. Brigid’s cross was on top of the casket. Though the family were strangers to us, we felt a connection and wished to honor the life of this one who had gone on. The human connection and common experiences we all share bind us to one another, no matter what country or spot on this globe we call home. It occurred to me that being reminded of the things we as human beings have in common, and having compassion for others we meet, is a step in the direction of making peace in the world.

Thus, we moved through a day that brought to us something unexpected, an event that would continue to weave through the coming days. This was pilgrimage… being present and living in the moment, even with the unexpected.

(Below - Leaving the mainland for Inis Mor)

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