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Post-Ireland Reminiscences: Lessons learned from a green country

Posted Jun 09 2011 10:45pm

What did I learn from this land of the leprechauns? Where two rainbows arched over the sky in a symphony of colors, surely with a pot o’ gold at each end?

The Gaelic language reminds me how our cancer-survivor speak must sound to someone without cancer. Simply gibberish. Likewise, the Celtic sounds complete with uilleann pipes and accordian, reeling with hard-shoed jigs, must have been jabberwocky to the Americans before Riverdance stepped into the big-time. Foreign culture, like cancer buzzwords, can make those not familiar with it either want to learn more or become further alienated from it.

We frail humans could all comfortably co-exist if we imitated the juxtapositions of the Irish:  the Gaelic and English languages, the medieval and modern architecture, the City of the Tribes (old name for Galway City) and the City of the Vibes (the name college students now call Galway City).

We could also take a lesson from Irish ecology. Plastic bags are taboo in their supermarkets. I rarely encountered a paper-towel dispenser in a restroom.  In its stead were energy-efficient heated-air hand driers. To save fuel within the city or around the countryside the Irish often travel by train or bus.  And smoking isn’t allowed in public places, including pubs. We could use a bit more of this greenery in America. Perhaps a bigger dose of it would reduce the risk of acquiring cancer from the environment. We wouldn’t know unless we tried.

I hope our American mercantile culture doesn’t infiltrate Ireland like their wild rhodadendron, which they tell hikers to tear out if they see it on their nature walks. I’d like to see them preserve their culture and traditions and rip out the bad influences (such as two-Euro stores bursting with merchandise from China) as if they were cancerous growths.

Pubs exist in every town and village around the country–public houses where people gather to hear local news, even in this time of social networking and video games. Many pubs are painted in extraordinary palettes of blue, orange, or red.  Their doors sport unique colors and some pubs still have thatched roofs, reminding me of Hobbiton in the Shire. One town we went through in this magical country had over 51 pubs!

We Americans could learn from the importance of families in Ireland. The sense of community in the pubs and elsewhere is evident to all.

I took another lesson from kissing the Blarney stone. It reminded me of a field trip many years ago to the Exploratorium in San Francisco in which we entered a tactile dome. Pitch-black inside, this structure demanded muscle strength of all those brave enough to enter and feel their way to the exit.  Did I have the courage to face the unknown within?  Especially since only a month had elapsed since my lumpectomy and undearm surgery?  Finally, at the teacher’s urging, I took the plunge, groping for support, climbing onto rope ladders while several tweens held onto me for dear life.

They must have trusted me.

Similarly, I trusted the rope that served as a bannister for the narrow, dark steps winding up the Blarney castle. I trusted the man at the top to hold me tight as I did an upside-down pushup to kiss the green stone. Why do this? Trust me, it was not a mid-life crisis. I did it for all cancer survivors, and to show lymphedema therapists and patients alike that I would not be limited in the use of my left arm.  Often defying the authorities on lymphedema, I do what may not be recommended, but what my arm tells me it was meant to do.

The finale of the trip? Meeting up with an online blogging Irish friend Marie. She hails from a charming part of the country. And her personal charm was evident from the moment I set eyes upon her. Enthusiastic, warm, lovely, cheerful and ever curious, she exuded hospitality, hardly talking about herself. Though our time together was woefully short, it was precious. The fact that we both had breast cancer hardly came up in our discussion. We were like two old friends catching up with the latest news about each other after not meeting for years.  Those who can connect with online friends in person–in 3D as one blogger put it–absolutely should take the opportunity. They won’t regret it!

These are the ruminations of a traveler glad to be back home, but still ablaze with the glory of this magnificent jade (but not jaded) country.  Shamrocks and Saint Patty’s Day will never be the same to me. Neither will Lucky Charms.

What are your lingering memories of a unique place you visited? Did you learn lessons from their culture that you have adopted, or thought of adopting, at home?

A toast of Irish coffee to you from a grateful, greener traveler,


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