Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It’s All About the Dash


By the time you read this, I likely will have landed in Dublin. While I have had many ideas about what should be ahead of us on this trip—I have, after all, worked on the corresponding research for this event for nearly a year—they have all been thoughts about the doing of the days, the content of the occasions, the requisite itinerary. Settling in to let the event just wash over me as passive passenger, I now start to see everything from the perspective of process rather than as the search for content that has riveted my attention with its incessant demands.

This is only the second time I’ve been to Europe: the first time on the eve of welcoming our daughter into the world, the second on the cusp of launching her back out into that world. And so it becomes that such travel indelibly imprints on my mind as coupled with life’s pivotal phases. Perhaps, among such shifts in attention, I stumble upon the philosophical as I review what’s been accomplished already in the face of what is yet to achieve.

The curse of content-gathering is that we focus on the doing of our project: all the deadlines that cry for completion, all the demands, all the details. To find our ancestors in Ireland, we need to construct that eternal chain of events, the litany of his-father-who-was-son-of, and marry it with obligatory names, dates, and life events. Duly documented. We take up the chain only to forge another link. When will we be satisfied? Just one more. Just one more.

At some point, back through the ages, the paper will crumble. There will be no more documentation. Not, at least, for those lowly tenant farmers who owed everybody something but could claim nothing of their own. Yet those are the very people whose ages-old life details we seek. We will at some point encounter disappointment.

As I shift to the process of traveling there—there being that dream destination once called home by those generations far removed from our lifetime—there is nothing more that can be done about gathering such details. Other than one glorious week at the national repositories of Irish history and documents, what we will glean at this point in our journey will be the sense of being where these ancestors once walked. It will no longer be a time in which I, the researcher, am in control, but a time in which we must sit back and take it all in: the sights, the sounds, the signs of history. We no longer go to the books to extract its proof; the details will ooze from the ambience of the places where we’ve chosen to visit. “It” must come to us—whatever that unanticipated “it” might be.

This is a type of process for which we cannot make plans. It only comes packaged with serendipity. There may be a Tully or a Falvey or a Flanagan at the village market who knows just what we are seeking but could never find in a book. Or not. How can you plan to rendezvous with the answer to a mystery? You can only keep your eyes open, your ears perked, and be astute about connecting the dots. Any lead can become a viable clue.

You cannot command process. You can prepare for it solely by gathering the content to fill out all the requisite forms. But the answers we really seek only unfold. You cannot command an unknown to “fetch.”

As we enter into this unexplored research territory, it becomes all the more obvious that we need the permission to slack off those demands of content and free ourselves to go with the flow of the process. We may have once planned to travel to obtain long-sought-after content, but it’s the process of the journey alone which can immerse us in a fuller understanding of the lives these ancestors lived. John Tully, 1842 – 1907: it’s the dash, not the dates we pursue now.



Above: "The Red Houses," a 1912 oil on canvas by County Limerick native, Norman Garstin; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

8 comments:

  1. This is like Christmas morning -- you know there is a present waiting for you but you don't know what it is. Whether the dash is little or significant or even empty, you will get to gaze upon the sights that your ancestors woke to each day. Priceless ~

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    1. Wendy, now that we are here, I can say that just being in Ireland is like that Christmas morning gift. Though we are sleep deprived, starved, and tired of lugging all our bags across the country, it is just a wonderful feeling to have arrived. We are looking forward to what the next few days will bring, as we begin exploring the area.

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  2. You can stand where they stood... to be married and to baptize their babies, and sit where they mourned the passing of others. To stand and see the vistas they saw, and what they left behind, and understand, deeply, their lament as captured in so many Irish songs.

    Their dash is full featured no matter how remarkable.

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    1. Exactly, Iggy. Now that we're here, riding the train through the countryside, I'm envisioning exactly that kind of trip. It's an adventure, and an adventure can't possibly have an itinerary. How could it? In a way, we are charting the unknown--even if that unknown has been unknown to only us. It will be such a treat to retrace those steps, "stand where they stood," as you put it. We are totally absorbed in staring at the maps.

      Or, we're just "dewy-eyed Yanks," as McCarthy put it...or just plain sleep deprived. But definitely waxing sentimental at this point.

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  3. You got there safely! I wish you good hunting on warm fall days...just to be there is an accomplishment:)

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    1. Considering all that has happened in the last twenty four hours, I'd say yes, I agree with you, Far Side! Definitely an accomplishment. Who would have thought?!

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  4. Replies
    1. Thank you, Beverly. I'm hoping it turns out to be a productive visit!

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