A Trip, A Memory, A Dream

IonaPerhaps this photo of us, younger and more innocent, will tell the story of why we have a crazy notion to race the lowering darkness and cold temperatures and rain, traveling into Scotland and Ireland with a 3-day stopover in Iceland on the way back. Yes, we are going. Very soon. In 2009, we traveled to Scotland and Ireland and stood on this rocky knoll on the holy island of Iona, off the Isle of Mull. We had a hankering to return.


Orsmaig Cottage, Isle of Mull

We’d used coins and two side-by-side red telephone booths to thumb through the Accommodations Guide from the Mull Visitors Center on the last day they were open for the season, calling self-catering cottages. Magically, in ways you can only experience while spontaneously traveling, we found a home to stay for a week. The valley around the cottage “Orsmaig” rang with the bellowing of red stags and was studded with waterfalls. It cost us nothing to stay, just a little watching over the place. To this day, I frequently dream of Orsmaig, and the profoundly generous and unlikely gift that was given us by the managers, who had been dreaming of their own trip away, waiting until someone provided the means to do so.

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View from Orsmaig Cottage

We were sure of ourselves, and confident we would come back to do it again. When I was at my most fragile and despairing during the hardest bout of chemo, I thought about things I still wanted in my life. Audrey was still but a concept and a prayer for a healthy baby. The one thing that did sustain me, and mightily, was the desire to go back to explore Scotland, to re-visit it one last time and re-discover the landscape of my novel, The Curve of the Moon, AND to re-trace our journeys in Ireland and all those beloved landscapes. I am being true to that promise I made to my body and spirit by taking this trip. We will wander, Shann and Steve style, and soak it in, perhaps literally, rain and all. And in the evenings, which will come earlier and earlier, well– that’s why they made pubs, right?

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Burren Dolmens

And Ireland? It is hard to remember how many times we traveled to that fair shore and every time my heart jumped in anticipation as the plane banked over that impossibly green landscape. We plan to stand in the mystery and silence of the Burren, where we can touch Neolithic stone dolmens in the limestone panorama, visit ancient trees in the Kingdom of Kerry, walk the famine road in Connemara and of course—to all those who ask—OF COURSE, we will go back to Killaloe and visit the Seanachaoi —pronounced Shann-o-key— (Irish for Storyteller) Pub.

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Our Irish “roots” began in 1996, winning the Seanachaoi Pub

Perhaps all this will unfold as planned. Perhaps not. I have learned a thing or two about things not happening as planned. There will be wonderful moments, and only fair to know that sometimes we will long for home. Sometimes we may have setbacks. I have an existential question before me. My body is not reacting well to the drug, Ponatinib. It did for awhile, but that turned out to be a honeymoon. Now the blood counts are reacting by dropping and indicators of kidney injury are going up. Ultimately, I can’t ask the doctors to make this choice for me. So, I ask Life, do I go, and risk the side effects,? Do I cancel the trip and stay home, saddened that this long desired journey has been put off? But there is no other time. This is the only window. I am in between here and gone, as Mary Chapin Carpenter says in this beautiful song, which has been a part of my soul for many years now. This youtube video is particularly fitting, as the photos describe what Steve and I seek when we wander.

This is a trip to heal our mutual PTSD and our wounded hearts. I am making the choice to go for it, leaving the Ponatinib behind for a few weeks. It is a goal to heal the wounds of the past even if we come to meet the troubles again. It is a goal to remember the freshness of the day from a distant shore and call back the explorer in ourselves. I feel good enough to go. That is a miracle in and of itself.

It will also be a place to rest from the cadence of American news, and gain a little perspective. Today, as I start to finish up my packing for our upcoming trip, the notion of going seems astonishing and nearly preposterous. The radio is full of news of how dangerous the world is. We don’t seek permission; rather, we slip through the cracks of ordinary and cancer life, to go on a truth-finding mission, once again, to see what kind of a world it really is. We intend to meet the best of it. Here’s to the optimism and the faith that we will rest in the beauty even while we revel in the adventure of the journey.

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1996, Mariya and Elena with friends in Killaloe

Lastly, this will be our anthem.

When the Great Day Dawns: from the Inuit  

“And I think over again my small adventures
When with the wind I drifted in my kayak
And thought I was in danger

My fears,
Those small ones that seemed so big
For all the vital things
I had to get and to reach

And yet there is only one great thing
The only thing
To live to see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.”

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