I arrived looking for signs of despair, but saw only smiles
A rushing relaxation
The Irish Times has changed its look, but thankfully still carries Doonesbury and Crosaire and the times for high tides. Does any other country use the word “drizzle” in a weather report? The streets still felt the same. Pedestrians dart between and around traffic, and walk at a fast pace without ever managing to look harried.
Everyone is in a rush but at the same time they seem utterly relaxed.
I still felt a little lost, like I didn’t quite fit in. I got lost, too, in the winding and leafy suburbs of Dublin 6, where the houses are bigger and set at a stately remove from the streets. I was happy to wander aimlessly. I wanted it not to end, to enjoy these simple pleasures, the “grand, so”, and “will you be having a cup of tea?”.
I was conscious of my accent, which years ago got stranded on a rock in the mid-Atlantic. I was careful with my words, aware that I was ambling along the path rather than the sidewalk, that I needed to ask for milk and sugar, not a double-double, and that my coffee would these days be an Americano instead of the plain cup of Joe they serve at my local greasy spoon.
It wasn’t that Dublin had changed that much, of course. It was me. So I wanted to inhale the voices around me, with their soft inflected “come here to me now”, “wait till I tell you”, and even, I swear, “stop the lights”.
Irish people continue to be able to curse like sailors but make it sound refined. I listened to a thousand “ah, go ons” and I was back in the past. It can’t be a coincidence that during this visit I unearthed an old photo of the non-grey-haired version of me to make my profile picture on Facebook.
In the chapel at Brook Lodge I walked my sister down the aisle and gave her away. At the reception, I looked around the room at people I meet only at weddings and funerals. They were older and perhaps a little wiser. They stood rounds and waved off those who tried to pay them with the standard “your money’s no good here”. We talked about what the kids were studying and who was getting married next year and who died. We danced badly.
Could I go home again? Could I be Gathered safely in? I don’t know. As I packed my bags, I thought about the faces in the photos at the airport. They’re not jolly, but they’re not miserable either, and their eyes possess an awful knowingness. That’s as good a description of “home” as any.
Niall McArdle is from Booterstown, Co Dublin. He is a freelance writer and bookseller based in the Ottawa Valley, Canada