That's what I thought when I looked at it, after having returned through it from a day spent beyond it. We four travelers, Bed and Breakfast'ers, had set out that morning toward Abbey Island by way of "three fields down, then turn left," and what awaited us took the entire day to explore, to behold, to digest. The previous day, that gate was only a feature in the garden of Moran's Seaside Farmhouse, Bunavalla, County Kerry; its blue painted wrought iron was but a fresh, shiny charm amidst all that garden green and against the backdrop of emerald sea.
Yesterday, I had no relationship with the gate.
I was surprised to be thinking this, but thinking it I was, and the thought felt dramatic, like a revelation. The previous day, I had no idea I had a modest future beyond it. I had no idea it would lead us to pristine coves, white sands, paradisaical tranquil and turbulent waters. I had no idea that we would "save" a beached brown and cream bottle-nosed
dolphin, only to return three or four hours later to watch it trap itself again, as if determined to perish. Neither did I know that it would be my "stupid white coat," my ill fitting and fashionless lightweight but supremely effective windbreaker that we would wrap and drag her with, that would, in effect, save the day--at least for a time.
Friday: this was our last day of our week spent in the West of Ireland--what I'd come to call "my last hurrah" here on Eire. Come morning, we would drive the express route to Dublin--"No stopping!"--to turn in the car at the rental place before their 4:00 closing time. We had started with Galway, moved on to Connemara, then down to Dingle, but Kerry was the piece de resistance, this final day in particular. It's not every day you get to minister to a dolphin, to cradle it in your forearms for a time, to come to its aid. The rest of what we found that day seems much less remarkable in comparison. But even days later, I feel profoundly affected by the whole of that time beyond the gate. It strikes me now as its own little lifetime: beginning, middle, and end. And it strikes me as precious. So I guess it shouldn't be any surprise to me that the gate would become an emblem for it, portal it was to that lifetime, however infinitesimal, which stays with me as any life well lived: it lives on. The gate was the giver; I received the gift. Or, rather, gifts: Ogham stone, Daniel O'Connell's home, my first icy plunge into the Irish Atlantic, the Abbey of Abbey Island, mud and thorns, wind and sky and stone the likes of which we had not yet so intimately known. After our day out there, and once we'd returned, everything beyond the gate looked different to me than before. I had known of course that there was life beyond it; I just didn't know it had anything to do with me. It's like the stranger at a party who becomes a true friend. What if I had never approached her? What if we never spoke? The gate was no longer irrelevant to me, and the world it gave onto was now and forever more than the object of a gaze or the subject of a pretty picture.
It's odd perhaps to feel changed by that day, but I do. Or maybe it was the whole week, a cumulative effect that leaves me feeling closer to the earth now, closer to its primitive nature and to my own--or at least more aware of it. The stripping down (coat, scarf, fleece, socks, sneakers, undies), the icy plunge perhaps best demonstrate this: I did not just look, as tourists will look at her, I did not just admire her; I touched her, I let myself be touched by her. I slipped into her. The earth opened herself to me, and I stepped in.
I realize now that I was in relationship with the gate from the first moment I encountered it. It stood making its invitation, which at first I neglected to accept.
"The world is your oyster!"
We say this to those embarking on a new life--graduates, for example, with their fresh diplomas in hand. But the gate has reminded me: at every turn we are on the brink of a new life, whether or not we recognize it. That's how it feels to me right now, at least, caught as I am between two worlds, two lives that I know of (my Dublin life, my Boston life) and others I do not know of.
Trinity is calling. And the Chester Beatty Library is calling. St. Stephen's Green and The Winding Stair and the River Liffey are calling. Iveagh Gardens and Phoenix Park and the Botanic Gardens are calling. Cow's Lane and South Anne Street and four or five museums are also calling. Puffin Island's call is the loudest of all. I have three weeks remaining in which to answer them all. But whether or not I can or do answer them all is not the point here. The point is this: I didn't realize I hadn't engaged the gate until I'd gone beyond it and returned.
How many new worlds have I unwittingly let pass? How many open invitations have I unknowingly declined? What have I deemed irrelevant to me that offers unimaginable, wondrous new life? Where am I drawing shallow boundaries when there could be none?
I feel that I engage deeply with life, but today I ask myself: how much of this life am I touching, really? I so want to touch it all. I so want to be touched by it all. And I am, when I am. And I am not when I am not.
gate photo courtesy of A. Gabiron