Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Full circle

Twenty Augusts ago, a plane carrying an ignorant kid from the cornfields of southwest Ohio touched down upon the greenest island in the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe the world. The greatest influences on her fledgling life were these:

  • Watching Germans with sledgehammers break down a graffiti covered wall on television
  • Map drill contests in 8th grade Geography class
  • A World History teacher with a PhD, a Republican Party membership, a sense of humor, and maybe a wee bit of a drinking problem (or a profound love of tabasco)
  • A second grade teacher who recognized her talent for writing and encouraged a love of reading
  • A gay senior government teacher who gave her her first voter registration card and planted the seeds of political interest and civic duty and helped her realize Democrat was the way to vote
  • The election of a saxophone playing southerner to the position of leader of the free world
  • Watching green streaks descend upon Baghdad like the Atari game Missile Command on live television
  • A rock band from the poor side of Dublin

When I went to college, I had every intention of becoming a lawyer who'd work towards fewer regulations on corporations. I had heard my Republican grandfather and my Republican stepfather complain about the regulation of their industries: concrete manufacturing and farming. I thought they were right because I knew them. I later learned I was an ignorant kid.

But I had been born with an intellectual curiosity that is desperately lacking in too many people, and my interest in being a pre-law Political Science major quickly faded as I learned more about the world. There was a particular basic Political Theory class where I was exposed to new ideas (or learned what old ideas were actually about), including the idea that just gets dumber as time passes, the idea that I criticized in a paper that the Political Science Department noticed.

Thank you, Francis Fukuyama, for the scholarships. Yours is still the dumbest academic paper (and book) of all time. LOL. The End of History and the Last Man. LOL.

As we witness the global collapse of democracy and the transition of free market capitalism to something far more sinister, I think back to the nineties when Fukuyama and everyone else were patting themselves on the back for "winning" the Cold War and when I first set foot on European soil. The world seemed to be done with war, tired of it, and we were finally on our way to solving things. I truly believed that was what we were striving for, a world without war, where people were free to pursue their interests and life would be one big party. Or something like that. The notion that people actually wanted war, that they got rich from war, never crossed my mind. I was well into my thirties before I realized that people actually work to make war happen.

I had chosen my university because of its nationally recognized study abroad program. It was a coincidence (if those exist) that the rock band that had helped open my eyes to the world (with the teachers, of course) was playing in their hometown one week before I was supposed to start my first semester in Europe. While other students went to the Greek isles for sun, alcohol, and sex, I went to an island much further north, the island Romans hadn't bothered to conquer, naming it "the land of eternal winter," Hibernia.

My journal entries from that time show a kid who knew nothing at all, not even what things to write in a journal. But they also show an intense curiosity. That trip to Ireland those twenty Augusts ago was the beginning of a journey that I am still on today (admittedly with less energy.)

I spent a week in Ireland then, in Dublin and its environs, falling in love with the place and trying to learn everything about the country in the span of days. But first I had to learn foreign money, foreign transportation, foreign phones, foreign accents, and those kind of basic things. That's laughable now, as they are as instinctual as anything I do here in the US.

I spent a lot of time in Ireland over the next few years - spring break, St. Patrick's Day, after the school year, after a summer graduate program I did the next year, a three month internship at a peace and reconciliation center...but I haven't been back since Bill Clinton was president. Ireland was my dream then. I wanted to live there. I yearned for it in the years after. I couldn't afford to take trips anywhere working for NGOs. The longing painfully faded.

Then we took a trip to Holland with a layover in Dublin airport last year.

Twenty years, man. I've come full circle. I sat in that airport drinking a Guinness and waiting on our plane and I couldn't get Ireland out my mind. So one morning I got up at 4am to purchase a ticket to see U2 in Dublin, the reason I went to Ireland in the first place all those years ago.

You can, if you are the reflective type, imagine my frame of mind as the trip draws nearer. I am forty years old now - people actually pay me because I know things, a lot of things, an eclectic assortment of things about the world. I wonder how I will see the place now, having longed for it so long and then finally giving up. I've really been thinking about the journey of late, those twenty years, all the unique opportunities I've had.

Including the opportunity to take a trip like this and get in the front near the stage.

I know Dublin is different now. I know Ireland is different. Back in 1997, they had just come into prosperity, thanks to years of European Union structural funds that made them a first world country. The Troubles were winding down - they'd sign the Easter Agreement the next year and security would come to the island. They called Ireland the "Celtic Tiger" because its economy was becoming powerful and the country was transforming from a third world country to a first world country. Free market ideologues like to point to their liberal economic policies (which means free market, not liberal the way we use it in the US) while completely ignoring the fact that they built the economy through EU governmental funds.

Twenty years ago, I couldn't have explained that to you. Now, I just don't want to, because I know it, so you should, too.

Twenty years ago, I couldn't tell you about how Irish monks may have saved Western civilization from the same fate the Islamic world had when barbarian hordes sacked their cities, killed their intellectuals, and burned up all their documents and knowledge. I couldn't have told you anything at all about the Middle East then. 

Twenty years ago, I could drink the Guinness factory. Now I just fall asleep. There will be Guinness on this trip. There won't be a lot of Guinness.

Twenty years ago, I wanted to be a writer. I traced the steps of James Joyce, drank in the pubs where he drank, took my picture by his statue, read the works of Oscar Wilde and marveled at how this tiny island nearly wiped out by British oppression could produce so many great writers. Five years ago, I still wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write the great Earthian novel. I grew complacent. I stopped writing. I'm starting again.

Twenty years ago, my hero was Bono.

My hero is still Bono.

Twenty years later, he's helped 30 million girls go to school, helped to reduce or nearly eliminate malaria in several countries, helped stifle the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and helped countries get out of the crippling debt that was preventing them from growing their economies. Here is an example of one man who put his money where his mouth is. Rare, indeed.

I will spend five days or so in Dublin and the rest in the north, on the Antrim coast in Ulster and on the Malin Head peninsula about as far west you can get into the Atlantic Ocean, where even now few people go and hopefully there's no cell phone signal. I will be driving a car in a foreign country for the first time ever.

On the wrong side of the road.

I'm scared.

I don't even drive much in the US.

It should be a vastly different than it was twenty years ago, both Ireland itself and my way of experiencing it. Oh, and I have a far better camera these days, too.

This trip is personal.

1 comment:

  1. I am so proud to call you my daughter. Have a wonderful trip. Be safe. Looking forward to all the pictures. Love you with all my heart.