I had to put my phone on night mode. Each night, as I lay sleeping under Irish stars, my friends at home would be just getting their days revved with a green juice and egg white omelet. Or, if truth be told, a second cup of coffee and an artisanal donut. No judgment here. But my phone would ding and ping and sometimes even ring at all hours of the dark as the world spun along and friends wanted to share a tidbit of their day. Finally, I learned about night mode and the phones all fell silent. Bliss. Night silence at Reavilleen is complete: no freeway traffic humming along like electricity on a wire, no airplanes low enough to leave a wake of jet noise, no police sirens, no pool pumps from the neighbor’s yard, no air conditioning units grumbling off and on. Nothing. There’s very few crickets to disturb the peace. You can quite literally hear your heartbeat.
So in the morning it was always a pleasure to pick up the phone and see all the red dots of texts, WhatsApps, and Facebook Messengers, Instagram DMs, and missed emails from friends popping in for a bit of connection. I’d sit there and open all the little dots like tiny Christmas presents and feel the distance between myself and the people who loved me shrink down to the flick of a fingertip. Frankly, being away from my friends was the hardest part of the summer. I hadn’t really noticed how much my life is a series of connections with women and men who are genuinely interested in sharing lovely moments. I like to think of myself as the type of person who really makes an effort to keep people in my loop who add depth and richness to my days, and it turns out that a little distance made me realize who is really invested in me for me, and not just what I could do for them at the moment.
Distance can be a relationship killer for friendship, and can fray the bonds even in a tight-knit family. We have friends that moved only 26 miles away a few years ago, but it is as if they fell off the face of the earth. Even given this, Tom would move to Ireland in a snap. He loves his grandkids and daughters more than anything, and his nieces and nephews are the little moons that make his tides rise and fall, but he’s always had a strong desire to return to his ancestral roots. Maybe his childhood spent fending for himself made him the monk he tends to be today. Or maybe the pull of the DNA really is that strong. I think he has a longing to belong to a family larger than his own, a people, a history that doesn’t include abandonment. In the Irish he has found friends who would drop anything for him and help him solve the smallest problem. He is content to split his time between Ireland and here only because he can’t imagine being away from Jessica and the girls while the girls are young. He doesn’t want to miss a minute but he’s willing to give up a summer or two.
I, however, have a strong connection to Southern California, perhaps in that same ancestral way Tom does with Ireland. My great grandfather was born here, and our family lived in the Los Angeles area when it was all citrus trees and fields. The landscapes of my childhood are dusty oak-covered mountains and industrial concrete contrasted with ocean waves and seaweed. California is a contradiction, an argument between nature and urban life, and I love that friction. Maybe when I get older and tire of hearing the police sirens at all hours I will consider a move to somewhere quieter, but I never want to be so far away from my sisters, nieces, and nephews that a dinner invitation would be out of the question. My sisters and their children are my lifelines, my roots, the ropes that moor me to the dock and make me steady.
For all the steady flow of electronic communication, I still felt detached from real life while at Reavilleen. Occasionally Jessica and the girls would FaceTime, and Tom would be floating on a cloud for the rest of the day. Or Laura and her girls would WhatsApp video, and I would walk them around the house and show them the trees, the wind, the sights. Carla and I would send instant pix to each other at all hours of the day and night as she undertook her road trip up the Western Coast of the US, and the immediacy would help me feel connected. Heidi and I FaceTimed from Barcelona to Ireland and planned our attack on how we could next meet up. (It turns out she’s flying into Los Angeles this week and we don’t have to do the Euro jumper-jets after all!) Long before I was aware that my time in Ireland was coming to an end, friends at home who had it marked on their calendars were clamoring for a lunch or meet up upon my return. To say that I was honored to be thought of is an understatement.
Now that I have returned to the crush of scheduling and juggling Clare’s school schedule, I am taking this time to bask in the beauty of friendship and reviewing what it means to be “home.” The moment the plane wheels touched down in L.A., my phone picked up the local cell tower and dinged. It was my younger sister via text: “You’re home! You’re home! Now we can play!” I laughed as I texted her back: “We aren’t even off the plane. How did you know I was home?” She said: “I’m tracking your flights, silly!” And then over the next four hours or so the texts poured in: “U home yet? Missed U.” or “When are we drinking bubbles, lady?” or “Do you smell like sheep? Let’s convo over coffee!” or “Welcome back. Call me when jetlag goes away.”
I bathed in the richness of the love, surprised at how quickly I was growing teary at the trite #blessedmoment I was having. Was it jetlag tugging at my tear ducts? Probably. Did I care? Not much. I was realizing that no matter how marvelous my new friends in Ireland are (and they ARE marvelous) my friend base here in So Cal is stuffed with people whom I could call on for advice in a disaster or for fashion help before a party. Tucked away in our Irish home this summer atop a hillside overlooking the sea, I wrote and cooked and read and gardened and painted and repaired little pieces of my soul that had been ripped over the past few years. That distance sharpened my awareness of the richness of my life on two continents. In Ireland I am excited to begin exploring new friendships over dinners and festivals and nights at the pub; In California I understand now how important it is to hold fast to the bonds that have withstood the test of time. There is a gratitude for things long established and things just begun. But just for silence’s sake, I’m going to keep my phone on night mode, and look forward to the morning’s happy burst of little red dots filling the screen.