At Home Abroad: Foxglove and Fuchsia
By Regina Costello
Like many of you, the recent weeks of living in a vacuum exacerbates my yearning to be on Irish soil. I try to remind myself to be deeply grateful for good health, our comfortable home, fresh food and clean water – necessities of life that are sadly non-existent in too many parts of this modern world.
We can travel to the moon, but we cannot provide sufficient clean water for all mankind on earth. Too many ponderings these days dampen our moods, but as I strive to get on with my days, attempt to accept a new way of life, thoughts of home and of a less embellished life creep into my thoughts.
My last living uncle lives on a farm in Loughlynn, just outside Castlerea in County Roscommon. Joe is 87 years old. Though plagued with back pain and arthritis, he maintains an optimistic demeanor.
His life is effortlessly organic, and his lifestyle is probably the safest in this rapidly changing world. His home is surrounded by lush green fields and a few neighbors that are well spaced out. His property is adorned with hawthorn bushes, tall sycamores and majestic horse chestnuts speckled with hydrangeas and gorse bushes. Joe has lived here all his life.
He has had a life of fresh air, and locally grown food. Up at the crack of dawn, he spent countless days on his feet tending his cattle, manning his land, fixing stone walls and fences with his faithful sheepdogs forever at his side. I don’t believe he ever owned a car.
To this day, he takes his tractor into the village to run errands and to attend Mass. I never asked him, but I don’t think he feels that he has lost out of life by not travelling or engaging in a more modern life. In fact, I have never seen him in a bad mood.
With the lockdown in place and making do with less, I think about how far removed my life is from that of my uncles’ and it makes me somewhat envious of his lifestyle. In his younger day, he had no need of a gym. Swag styles, beyond a Sunday suit were never of interest to him.
He wouldn’t know what do with our kindle, IPod or smart phone. I doubt he ever watches a movie and so Netflix would probably be anathema to him.
An Ideal Irish Day
I’m guessing that mornings spent reading the paper with a pot of tea brewing on the stove; a chat over the wall with a passing neighbor; an afternoon stroll across the fields; a hearty evening dinner followed with lounging in a favorite armchair in front of a roaring turf fire as night beacons, are prime elements of a perfect day for him.
I have no doubt that these times are both scary and difficult for him too. While things are improving in many countries and much advancement has been made in a very short time to produce drugs and a vaccine, the black cloud continues to loom overhead somewhat because we are still unsure of the future and what form it will take. But if we think about it, even under normal circumstances, we never know what tomorrow will bring – never mind the future.
Life as described by Shakyamuni Buddhain, is a state of impermanence1 that is usually obscured by normal routines and schedules. An upheaval in one’s life, or a cataclysm of a global scale, like the current pandemic, can catapult this state to the forefront of our minds, which can shake our very core.
Professor Kees Van den Bos writes, “people have an inherent need to feel certain about their world, their place and their future in it and try to avoid, eliminate or at best manage the uncertainty in their lives”.2 Perhaps this is one explanation for recent feelings of discombobulation, that are further exacerbated by our bidding farewell to what was our way of living. The future is using a battering ram to break down the door into our lives and thrust us into a new age.
But, we are prepared in some respects for new lives. Technology has allowed some aspects of life to continue – with access to the internet, many employees and students can work from home. Some individuals who traditionally traveled as part of their job are now successfully working from home.
Right now, little of this seems ideal, but at least it is functional to some degree. And most importantly, technology is enabling scientists to hopefully produce a vaccine in two years which to date has been unheard of.
Amidst all this, with the only certainty that our lives will change forever, some things for now remain the same. The sun will continue to shine. The road will rise to meet us. And the foxglove and the fuchsia will continue to adorn the Irish countryside.
To embrace our new reality, we need to work hard to rise to the occasion. Each day I am trying to make a bigger effort to greet the sun with a smile; take my wheaten terrier on longer walks that she so deserves, and to take delight in a summer that is showing lovely signs of bloom in the bosom of my family. This is what it takes to survive a new life at home abroad.
1 O’Brien, Barbara. “Shakyamuni Buddha.” Learn Religions, Feb. 11, 2020.
2 Van den Bos, K. (2001). Uncertainty management: The influence of uncertainty salience on reaction to perceived procedural fairness. Journal of Social Psychology, 80, 931-941.
*Regina is a graduate of History and Philosophy from the National University of Ireland, Galway and a postgraduate of Library and Information Studies from the National University of Ireland, Dublin. She is a former Assistant Librarian of the Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin; former Curator of Irish American Archives of the Cleveland History Center; former Executive Director of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Commission and former Executive Director of the Northern Ohio Rose Centre. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Mayo Society of Greater Cleveland. She can be contacted at rc*******@am*******.net