That adorable dog on the left is Ireland. That lunatic on the right, that's my Tilly.
For reasons I won't go into, I didn't have a lot of time to make the decision to go. I'd been dithering about committing and was running out of time. Then Ireland's owner called, on the last day I had to choose, and made an appointment for her dog. Decision made. I committed.
Then, nearly instantly, I had buyer's remorse. As much as I chide others to challenge their comfort zones, putting myself in the situation of the Unknown and Uncontrolled is extremely difficult for this introverted control freak. And making small talk with strangers? Not really my thing. But I sensed I was desperate for an adventure. I reluctantly listened to my own advice, in conjunction with the serendipity of Ireland the Dog's kennel appointment.
Each winter, I focus on a subject and read and watch as much as I can relevant to that topic. Past subjects included WWII and the History of Abolition. Bleak subject matter for the darkest months, right? But I enjoyed reading about the heroics of people like Corrie Ten Boom, Bonhoeffer, and Wilberforce, et al. However, I just knew educating myself on Ireland (of which I was woefully ignorant) would be refreshing. Well, not really. Turns out their history is also one long story of persevering in the face of tragedy. Frankly, I can relate. Maybe you can too.
I also read message boards about travelling to Ireland, the sites, the tips, etc. Over and over, visitors to the country raved about the friendliness of the people. "Great," I'm thinking, "Maybe they will be more understanding if I really fail the whole driving on the other side of the road thing."
But it was so much more than that. Three examples.
1. The lady from whom we rented our little cottage offered to light our peat fire stove if we were out all day sightseeing. And two nights, she did just that, allowing us to enjoy a long day and still come home to cozy warmth. The one time I'd rinsed out a few pairs of wool socks and hung them by the stove to dry. When we came back, not only was the fire stoked, but my socks had been moved to the fancy drying rack. I don't know about you, but hanging up someone's stinky socks so they'd dry better isn't the sort of thoughtful thing that crosses my mind. Ever.
2. After asking the lady at the front desk for directions somewhere, I asked if it was "the road behind the hotel, then turning right at the third intersection." After hesitating for scarcely a moment, the lady responded, "You could go that way, or you could use this road in front of the hotel and get straight there." See what she did there? She didn't say, "No, you're wrong" which would have been fine because I'm obtuse enough that I need very clear communication. But she didn't dismiss my misguided notion and just told me the better way.
3. On the non-stop bus from Galway to Dublin, a woman approached the bus driver for a quick conversation. Fifteen minutes later, the bus pulled over, the driver got up, went to the restroom, ascertaining that the door was, in fact, NOT stuck, and returned to his seat and got us all back on the road. But as he was buckling in, the woman who'd approached him spoke (in her Irish accent), "Now everyone will know it was me that stopped the bus and the door wasn't even stuck." Another woman, not with the first, said (in her Irish accent), "We all needed a little break."
That's it. No public lynching or berating took place like you know would have happened in the U.S. At that moment, I wanted to stand up and yell, "Do you know how awesome you people are?!" But I didn't because 1. it would be weird and 2. tears were stinging my eyes.
Some people may describe me as nice. And I know how to be polite. But I can't honestly say that my reflex nature is kindness. I'm so concerned juggling all the balls in Lynne World that considering the needs and comforts of others rarely makes my peripheral vision, let alone my priority.
Sure, it was only six days in Ireland, with limited exposure to people who didn't work in the service industry. But it was clear that the nature of kindness runs deep. And while I often wanted to ask, "What do you do with existential angst?" that wasn't exactly appropriate to ask Tony the car rental guy (told ya I was bad at small talk).
It won't be photos or video I treasure most from my visit to Ireland. It will be the overwhelming desire to "be ye kind, one unto another, tenderhearted...." (Ephesians 4:32). I left wanting to be the type of person who lifts up others, putting their needs before my own. As much as I love to bask on a Florida beach, I can't say I've left wanting to be a better person.
When Ireland the Dog comes for her next visit to the kennel, I will remember the role she played in visiting a country of kindness. But I won't give the owner a big hug because 1. it would be weird and 2. tears will be stinging my eyes.