Going Back To Normal (And Everyone’s Exhausted)

Restrictions are lifting in Ireland, and we’re going back to something like normal. We’re picking up the threads of life that were untouched for so long and sliding back into routines we used to think were immutable until they weren’t. It’s good. We’ve been waiting for this, looking forward to this, and now it’s happening. 

And now we’re tired. I keep hearing it from all kinds of people, in all kinds of ways, and feeling it, too: The old threads of life that were so familiar feel funny in our hands now, and heavier than we remembered. The jobs we used to do and schedules we used to keep feel harder, and somewhat foreign, like running through water. Yes, we’re all happy about life returning to familiar forms. But we’re also exhausted, and it’s showing. 

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The Headless Head Of Ireland

The history of Ireland is written in stone—crumbling stone—in the ancient walls and castles and cottages and churches dotted all across her landscape. I find them constantly fascinating, which I’m sure has something to do with the fact that I came here from a country that wasn’t covered in such tangible monuments to the past. When I look at them, they remind me that life is short, history is long, and the possessions and power that humans collect here on earth are only temporary. 

Last week, our family stumbled across the ruined mansion of a man who was powerful and important, in the extreme. It was enormous. Even in ruins, it still impresses. But among the ruins, there was a statue that had toppled from its place in the Big Wind of 1839, and when it fell, the head broke off and was never recovered. Psalm 146 tells us to put our trust in the Lord, not in the power of mortal princes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more vivid picture of this warning than that statue of a man who was the head of all of Ireland, whose head has never been recovered. As I thought about what we had seen, I wrote this poem:

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St. Patrick’s Lost Years

Today marks the second St. Patrick’s Day in a row without celebrations in Ireland, St. Patrick’s country, which is perhaps more appropriate than it sounds. Patrick would understand the experience of having plans upended. The only reason we think of Ireland as his homeland today is because his life did not go to plan. At all. Growing up in Wales (probably), he never thought that his future would be in Ireland, and he didn’t much care for God, either. Then, disaster struck. He tells us in his autobiography: “I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others.”

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The Reason For Windows

It’s a good thing I like my house. As Ireland’s third coronavirus lockdown drags on with no end in sight, we’re all getting used to being in our own spaces. One of the reasons I like my house is the windows, especially the ones in the back that let the sun stretch all the way across the floor whenever it takes a fancy. From those same windows, I can watch the songbirds gather at our bird feeder, and I can see the flowers bloom in our little garden. All of these things remind me that the world is bigger than the box I live in.

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An Irish Christmas Selection Box

It’s Christmas week, and we’ve already ended up with more chocolate selection boxes than is good for us, which is traditional. I can’t share those with you, but I would like to share a selection box of some of the things I’ve enjoyed online from Ireland this Christmas season…

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We Get Used To Things

When we moved to Ireland, we were cold all the time. Our bodies were used to heat, and for all the truly wonderful things Ireland has to offer, it simply doesn’t come with that feature. There’s a reason the Romans called this island “Hibernia”, the “land of winter”. But unlike the Romans, we stuck around. At first, we got funny looks from our neighbours because we wore coats even when they were breaking out their shorts. Over time, though, we acclimatised. Now we say “It’s roasting”, and mean it, on days we used to describe as chilly. Our temperature scale really is different. Once, when we visited America, one of our young children asked me, greatly concerned: “Dad—I’m getting wet? On my forehead..?” He didn’t know about sweat yet. He didn’t know that I grew up in sweat. When he walks out the door into an Irish summer, he doesn’t hit a wall of heat and humidity, and neither do I anymore. We’re Hibernians now.

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The Church Is Not A TV Show

Ireland is in the midst of her second Coronavirus lockdown, where the restrictions include an order that “church services move online”. The government’s goal is to limit physical interaction wherever possible, while still keeping prioritised institutions open—primarily schools and crèches, and also certain elite sports and greyhound racing (?). Church gatherings are considered to be an unnecessary risk, and have been banned not only in the current Level 5 restrictions, but also in the lower Levels 3-4 as well. While churches do (mostly) have the ability to broadcast aspects of their services, the blunt requirement to “move online” displays a misunderstanding of what the church is, how it works, and the role it plays in society.

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Strong Trees Don’t Grow Overnight

A few weeks ago, I posted a poem about an oak tree. In the poem, and in my mind, oak trees are big, spreading trees with thick trunks and impressive reach. They are a picture of solid stability, untouched by passing storms. Which sounds nice, doesn’t it? With Ireland now entering another full lockdown for at least the next six weeks, the ability of oak trees to stand unshaken in a turbulent world is enviable. Right now things look awfully unsteady, from where I’m sitting. 

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Anger, Panic, And The Psalms

Halloween is coming soon, but I’m not interested. The celebration of demons and death has never held much attraction for me, but this year the holiday seems especially out of place: haven’t we had enough to scare us already in 2020? Who needs a horror film, when we have the news? Brexit, which would normally dominate European headlines, has taken a back seat to Coronavirus, and then of course there’s my own homeland, the (Dis)United States of America, trying to hold an election like Jerry Springer used to try to interview guests. When the world isn’t panicking, it’s angry. When it isn’t angry, it’s panicking. It’s a rollercoaster that refuses to end. 

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A Trip To The Embassy

I was excited. We’d only lived in Ireland a few months—long enough to begin to feel the reality of deep differences, but not nearly long enough to adjust to them. Our second son had just been born, a different experience in a different medical system, and we needed to register his birth at the United States embassy. American soil, in Ireland. It would be nice to get a little taste of all we’d left behind. A few hours on the motorway got us to Dublin, where we found the US embassy—a big round thing looking out of place on its street-corner, like a landed UFO. Like us. 

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