On a train from Dublin to Killarney, I connected with a wise kindred spirit of a woman named Ann Quinn who tried to take me home with her. We laughed and talked until we were breathless, making our three-hour journey last minutes. Ann, perhaps sensing I was lost, tried her best to talk me into coming to stay with her so she could show me around the Ring of Kerry, but being unfamiliar with this type of wide open warmness and hospitality of people who know no strangers, being a skeptical, cynic of a woman, an American woman traveling alone, I declined and still regret it.
When Ann said goodbye, she left me with this poem from Irish poet and priest John O’Donohue , which I hastily copied in one of my (dozens of) moleskin travel journals for safekeeping. Here it is:
For The Traveler
“Every time you leave home, another road takes you into a world you were never in.
New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well will pretend nothing changed since your last visit.
“When you travel, you find yourself alone in a different way,
More attentive now to the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching you abroad;
And how what meets you touches that part of the heart that lies low at home:
“How you unexpectedly attune to the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation you want to take in
To where your longing has pressed hard enough inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight you could not have known you needed to illuminate your way.
“When you travel, a new silence goes with you,
And if you listen, you will hear what your heart would love to say.
A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go, to take the time to bless your going forth,
“To free your heart of ballast so that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward the territories of spirit
Where you will discover more of your hidden life,
And the urgencies that deserve to claim you.
“May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.
“May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.”