I was driving home last night with a shameful haul of used books from a local second-hand shop – it’s an addiction, really – when I looked into my rearview mirror and noticed the sun setting behind a row of palm trees. It occurred to me that we’ve lived in California more than 2 1/2 years, and I’ve yet to sit back and watch a famous palm-tree framed sunset here. That’s kind of crazy.
There are lots of things we’ve not done here in that time. We’ve never been to Yosemite, or Napa, or Lake Tahoe, or Hollywood, or San Diego. We’ve never splurged on the Monterey Bay Aquarium or Hearst Castle or Disneyland, we’ve not been to Alcatraz or the Winchester Mystery House, and I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve dipped our toes in the Pacific.
Why? Is it time or money or having young kids or what? I guess it’s just life! Weekends are so packed with preparation for the week ahead, and plans to do the above have often been cancelled due to illness or lack of funds or simple logistics.
It is actually embarrassingly similar to how we lived in Ireland. My entire 5+ years spent on the island, I never made it to the West and saw very little of the North, South and East. I never saw the Ring of Kerry, didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone or spit off the Cliffs of Moher, never walked the hills of Connemara or explored the wilds of Donegal. But in Ireland, while we really had all the time in the world, we had no means of transport and definitely no money to spare. Here, as I mentioned above, it is more a matter of logistics and the fact that Frank and I work full time and have to hoard our precious vacation days, usually for family visits. So here it is, early June, and we’ve not taken any time away as a family since our trip to Ireland at Christmas!
For two people (and progeny) who love to travel, this is a disgrace!
Especially now. Now, because we’ve fallen a little out of love with Cali, particularly Silicon Valley. Now, because we’ve got another little Kelly on the way. Now, because life and the world around us has become such an anxious muddle. It’s so easy to make up excuses NOT to travel, but if I’m being honest with myself, travel is probably exactly what we need right now.
I wonder how I will feel when I look back a few years from today? Will all the uproar that is America still be causing feverish anxiety? Will emotions and fears still be tugged to and fro by every swipe of a screen? Will friends and relatives still be further polarizing themselves from each other because of fear of terrorism, or healthcare, or education, or global warming?
The US is a very noisy place to be at the moment, and nowhere more so than the Bay Area. For better or worse, most people seal themselves off with mobile devices, avoiding eye contact and in-person communication in favor of ear buds and microphones and little screens. It’s so much easier to cut a connection, or not answer at all, than to have to deal with the literal elephant in the room. Especially when respectful, open discourse is as scarce around here as a good parking spot.
I try not to worry too much about tomorrow – the Irish taught me that – but I am tensed for bringing a new life into this world that seem so bent on stirring up hate at the moment. I often tell Frank I want to escape to a cabin in the mountains or a farm in a glen – somewhere I can’t be reached or bothered by technology, somewhere I can focus on what really matters to me and raise chickens and have a pumpkin patch. Obviously, we think of “home” a lot, still, and where that might be.
Pregnancy dreams nearly always take me back to Ireland, where I walk the streets of Drogheda on a Christmas Eve or watch the tour boats bob on the Liffey in Dublin. I don’t dream of Anderson or Indianapolis or Bozeman or Cupertino or Stanford. For some reason, out of all the places I’ve lived, Ireland is the most deeply etched on my subconscious. Maybe this is simply because, in Ireland, we did take the time most days to have tea and cake with friends or examine spiders in the garden with the kids – constantly fretting about the injustices created by crooked politicians (and Ireland has her fair share) didn’t make any marked change on our situation and it took up an awful lot of precious time we could have used to create something positive. What’s more, our situation was bad at times, but the world didn’t end, and we did make it through.
For the time being, we’re still reluctant Californians. We’re well provided for, with insurance and a roof over our heads, childcare for the kids and reliable paychecks coming (and quickly going!). I am trying to remind myself to breathe, and not let the surrounding drama get the better of me when it threatens. To some this may look like I don’t care. On the contrary, it’s because I care so deeply that these self-preservation methods I learned from the Irish are so important. It’s offering a smile and reassuring word, when possible, to bring my family stability and comfort. Maybe that’s all I can do on a daily basis, but if today was all I had left, wouldn’t it be better to leave behind memories of love and not panic? If I may take the liberty of adding a bit to Proverbs, I sort of feel like a 2017 version sould say, “There is a time for protest marches and a time for eating dripping ice cream cones. There is a time for watching the news and there is a time for reading a good piece of fiction. There is a time for refinancing your loans and there is a time for hanging the expense and taking your family on vacation.”
For me, perhaps I just need to make more time for the sunsets, which cost nothing at all.