Island I Vow, Loch Lomond, Scotland 2014
It’s not that I’m unhappy or even dissatisfied with my life, far from that. I’m a generally happy person. I list laughing as my top favorite thing to do. I love happy! I love how happy feels. To me happy is a deep satisfaction, a deep gratitude for life, a childlike sweetness that moves through your entire being, a feeling of fullness, like after a favorite meal, only lighter. I feel all those things and more most of the time, probably 90% of the time. It’s those 10% days that I spend far too much time trying to move through with grace. I don’t think that I’m alone in these thoughts and maybe I’m going about this all wrong, but I think what I am longing for is more. I believe we are all intrinsically selfish. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but in the sense that we want to be self fulfilled. The things that feel good we want more. The things that make us laugh, we want more. The feelings that move us, we want more. I know, I know, problems of the 1st world. I get that, I do. I’m talking about meaningful emotions, not monetary means. I realize many people have far worse things to whine about than not getting their spirit-self nurtured. I completely understand the thoughts behind the naysayers, “at least you have your health, and healthy children,” and “at least you have a mortgage to worry about”, believe me I am with you, and I am thankful for all those worries. I’m putting aside the obvious and talking about the very thing that makes us feel empty, no matter what riches you hold or how fortunate you are in life. I’m talking about the hunger for emotionally more. I’m speaking of my constant search for something that feels just out of my reach, a place in me that feels like home.
When I used to walk through the door of my childhood home, the moment I crossed the threshold I felt this deep sense of belonging, safety, and peace. I knew I was home and no matter what was “out there”, it couldn’t get to me, it couldn’t come in with me. I’ve since moved many times, to many different places and not one of them ever felt like home. When I purchased the house I live in now, almost 20 years ago, it took some time but after two children, a divorce, and many, many pets, it began to feel like home. I hadn’t realized it until one day after a long work day; I walked in my house, fell on my bed and said a very long, very heartfelt, thank you to my house. I told her how very much I appreciated her for sheltering me and giving me a safe haven. I thanked her for always being here, unchanged in feeling if not appearance, and for always welcoming me back. Now I am preparing to sell her and I feel, oh what would be a good word here, displaced.
I read a book many years ago that spoke of the displaced Scots. How Scottish clans were forced to leave their homes and country, give up their surnames and vacate. My own ancestors were among these people. I felt a deep sadness as I read the words. The author’s description of how Scots have a longing, an unabatable longing to return to a home that is no more, hit home with me. The book went on to explain how this longing is in the DNA, moreover, the DNA memory of the generations that followed that period in time. The people with this ancestry, (American Indians to name another) often describe a sadness that they don’t understand. It’s an empty spot that sits in your heart that can’t ever be filled by another person or the having of health, wealth or objects. I understood it completely. I tried to shrug it off; I made jokes saying that must be why I cry why I hear bagpipes, when everyone else is cringing. Honestly, it goes much deeper than that. And so began my quest to visit my Homeland.
It took many years and more money than I really had to spend on a vacation, but I went home to Scotland. I started planning my trip a year before I actually bought my ticket. I wasn’t sure if I would actually ever really get there, but I planned as if I knew I would. I spoke of my desire to go to Scotland to a dear friend and since we did most everything together, she was going with me. A year later, when we boarded the plan it hit me, I was going home.
Landing in Edinburgh was like landing in Oz for me. I’d never left the US before except to visit Mexico and I’d never even had a passport. Yet here I was in Scotland. This surreal feeling swept over me and I remember thinking, remember this! Remember all of it. Take it in, breathe it in, don’t waste a moment, and don’t continually be looking down at your cell phone or taking pictures. Live this fully, be present, don’t be a passive part of this experience, be this experience. I took a deep breath and began my journey.
The beginning was like most holidays I guess, running from place to place, bar to pub, to sightseeing locals, but all the while I was breathing in the whole place. From the misty skies to the cobblestone streets, the ever so green hills to the sharp spires of ancient churches and bulky stones of lonely castles, I was slowly filling that hole. I wanted to see everything, learn all I could, and talk to everyone just to hear the lilt.
When we reached Loch Lomond I knew some part of me had just snapped. I felt it deep in my being, so hard and so strong it was like a specter just passed through me. I had hired a boat to take us to the islands that held the remains of the castles once inhabited by my family. I had no idea what to expect, only that the boat would take us there. And that it did. The mist that was hovering all over the loch, parted on the wind here and there to expose green hills and edges of the shoreline. Then I saw it coming fast, a small speed boat jetting across the water, our ride was coming. The driver, a friendly fellow named Doug, hopped to the dock and greeted us warmly then helped us onto the boat. As we moved away from the land and deeper into the mist I felt a chill of excitement. Our speed increased the further from shore we went and soon we were sailing out into a foggy wonderland. The mist seemed to have a life to it, thinning to show the greens, golds, and rusts of the landscape then closing in again only to reopen and allow a new view of a previously hidden shore. It was magical. In the distance I could see an island slowly emerging. The driver called out that this was the first stop, Inveruglas. He maneuver the boat to a position where we could disembark easily, jumping from the bow to the sand. When my feet hit the ground, I felt my knees go weak. I lost all sense of space and time and even the presence of my friend. I walked straight to the remains of the castle. I rubbed my hands along its moss-covered rocks and closed my eyes in silent reverence. I scoured every inch trusting my internal guide to show me everything I needed to see and feel. I think I touched almost each and every inch of the castle circling it several times. I never wanted to leave. I felt this island had just given me so much deep pleasure that I wanted to return the favor and quickly pulled a bracelet from my wrist and stuck it deep in one of the rocky walls. I swore to return and share this place with my children.
By now I was fairly tuned up, though I was still able to muster some composure. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could contain the tears that were filling my eyes begging for release. The next stop was Island I Vow, a small perfectly shaped island farther out in the loch. Again, the driver circled around until he found a landing spot for us to easily access the shore. This time a whole new feeling came over me. It was as if a nurturing motherly spirit was waiting to welcome me home. Where the first island had felt extremely masculine, I Vow felt intoxicatingly female. I walked slowly, respectfully, to the castle which stood there peacefully in all its reverence. I swept my hands gently along her edges and breathed in the fresh green scent. I moved slower this time, stopping to see the Blue Bells and the curls of new fern leaves about to unfurl. I took in all the colors of the different trees and the smooth texture of the rocks down by the water. I was so taken by the island and the castle I hadn’t noticed something very special. My friend, who had been very quiet throughout the day called to me to come see something. I moved to where she was sitting. I looked like what had once been a large window. I sat beside her and she nodded her head beckoning me to look through the window. When I turn and looked out I saw it, I saw what she had found and knew I needed to see; the most beautiful view of the loch. At that moment the dam broke and a river of tears came rushing down. I was so thankful for every part of my life leading up to this moment, most especially my friend for sharing it with me. I have never felt such peace and connection, other than the births of each of my children. It was utterly amazing; I felt I was finally home. When it was time to leave, I started off to the boat then remembered what I had intended to do. I sat on a rock and ripped a bracelet from my ankle. I placed it in a deep crack between the stones of the wall of the castle with a prayer of gratitude and a solemn oath to return one day. It felt as though my small gift had gone from my hand to hers. Time seemed to stop, like the world ceased spinning, and for that brief moment I felt wholly complete.
Island I Vow, Loch Lomond, Scotland 2014
Since that day I have longed to return to Scotland, to I Vow, to the way I felt in that moment. Trying to recreate it has eluded me, but I know she is still there. Just Like I know the sun will rise tomorrow. That is my small comfort. I have a full life here, I have my cherished children, my dear friends, and things are much better for me than many. Still, in the darkness of night, in the recesses of my mind, I feel her calling me. I feel that familiar emptiness and longing to return to a place that filled the hole in my heart. How can a place do this? I have no idea. Is it my imagination? Quite possible, but it feels as real as my hand on the cold green moss of that castle. Will I ever return to I Vow? Most assuredly I shall.
Moving forward, I still have rough days. I hold fast to how fortunate I am. I take each day as it comes and know I have much to be thankful for in this life. I know I will face challenges and leaving my house will bring some tears. I am very aware I am moving into a huge life change and I am meeting this transition with a little fear and a lot of excitement. What is my plan? I have no plan, other than to slip into the river and go with the flow. On those 10% days, when I feel lost, scared, and that the hole is growing in my heart, I think back to I Vow. Things suddenly don’t seem so out of sorts. I feel like an emerging butterfly and I can’t help but wonder just how courageous a butterfly truly is, and what life might be like for one in Scotland?