When I was fourteen years old, I found my first love in Venice. Now, before your brains jump to romantic images of gondola rides and gelato dates, I should clarify that I did not have a whimsical romance with a gorgeous Italian man. I’m still holding out for that. No, I am referring to Venice itself.
With its maze of streets and glittering canals it sucked me into this whirlwind of history and travel and thus my wanderlust was born. My need for adventure has since taken me many places, and about a year ago I shared with you what I had found in Paris. Every place I’ve been has given me something, but the recent and most fulfilling travel I’ve experienced thus far has been Ireland.
My sister is currently getting her Masters in Limerick studying Traditional Irish Music, and our best friend is in Galway getting her Masters in writing, so I popped over during their holiday break. Over the course of a week we went from Dublin’s vibrant night life to the charming cobblestoned streets of Galway, to Limerick and back to Dublin, with a couple stops in between. My favorite of these was the Cliffs of Moher.
God was smiling on us that day as the sun was shining brightly, holding the rain off until we got on the bus back to Galway. I was most looking forward to this. Walking amongst the echoes of those who came before us never ceases to leave me breathless. Even the domineering wind that desperately tried to control my feet couldn’t ruin it.
I stood by the stone wall and gazed longingly out to the sea that was painted the most radiant blue I’ve ever seen. I felt such calm and peace. While my sister stood next to me she said she could feel the power of the place. I disagreed. It wasn’t so much a power that the Cliffs possessed, but a silent strength. They are sure of their place, their beauty, their history, the way they capture us in our feet, our bones, and our very souls. They don’t feel the pride of being a mighty landmark and tourist attraction. Of course they’re proud, but they are not made more by our presence. They allow us to be there.
It was everything I thought it would be, and yet, I didn’t feel the rush I’d expected. I didn’t feel that delicious pain in my chest that I get when I’m somewhere overwhelmingly beautiful and it calls to me. And I realized it was because I was expecting the Cliffs to be the highlight of my trip, but it wasn’t.
The highlight was spending a week with my sister.
We didn’t stay out until ungodly hours of the morning getting drunk with the locals or hopping from pub to pub making new friends. For the most part we had dinner, had a Guinness or three at the bar next door and were home early enough to watch a couple hours of Netflix before passing out until morning.
So what did I find in Ireland?
The importance of family.
The people in your life are everything. Sure, there are a few exceptions and personal preferences for seclusion, but overall we as a species are social creatures. We find purpose from the environment around us. Life is a constant relationship of give and take with the people we’re surrounded by, whether we realize it or not. If you have nobody to share the crazy ups and downs of life with – whether it’s a significant other, a best friend, or a relative – then I just don’t see the point.
I was always a friendly yet introverted kid growing up. I had my few close friends and that was good enough for me. When I didn’t have friends around I made them. I didn’t have one constant imaginary friend. I had many, always changing, coming and going about their business. So even when I was by myself, even when I would hide in my room during my own birthday parties (yes, I did that), I wasn’t alone.
As I’ve grown up I’ve learned more and more that I’m a presence person. Most of the time I don’t need to interact with anyone, nor even really want to for that matter, but I enjoy being in the same room as someone else I love. When my sister, our best friends and me still lived back home or would visit home together, our hangouts consisted of us sitting in the basement with our laptops or books out – not even talking, just existing with one another. It was enough.
And it was enough again whilst in Ireland. I was amongst ancient rock and soil, a different culture, a different dialect, and I was perfectly happy to sit with my sister in her bed, watching Merlin.
Traveling is freedom. It is a necessary freedom and it is a freedom that I will always crave. But it was Kara and Katy who made my soul lighter. A Chicago friend commented that Ireland seemed to “agree with [my] spirit.” That it does, I will admit. I didn’t want to come home. I felt very low at the airport, on the flight, and even for a couple days after. Having to go about my normal daily routine with work and home was excruciating. But one night amidst all of that longing and aching for the unknown, I had a night with some friends where I was downright giddy. There was a lightness to my spirit and an easygoing headspace that I haven’t experienced in years.
The people in your life help make it what it is, whether it’s people you know well and love or who you encounter on the street. Family – wherever you may find it – will always be there for you to lift your spirits, lighten your soul and brighten up your life. Don’t take that for granted, don’t let that slip away. Call your parents. Visit your grandparents. Ask them questions. Take a road trip to a wedding of someone you haven’t talked to in months or even seen in years, because those moments are special and lasting and remembered and while different relationships may fade over the years, moments and memories last forever. Relationships you hold on to and nourish last forever. And that’s what I’d call a successful and wealthy life.