Resting, and Remembering John O’Donohue, in Ireland
View Anam Cara? in a larger map
I am back in the office after the first real extended period of rest I’ve had since we started producing SOF weekly six years ago. Esther Sternberg’s analogy of a “reboot” was completely apt. I had to shut down, in every way. My dear colleagues created the space in our collective work life for me to be able to do so. They changed my email password (at my request), so I could break the habit of email; it took me weeks to stop trying to log in, compulsively, practically in my sleep. I called this my email sabbatical.
And I went back to a magical place, the Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat, where I had gone once before, three summers ago, when I was finishing my book. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever experienced, but I was a crazy person on deadline.
This time, I was able to soak up the beauty, to read as much as write, and write what gave me pleasure. I spent lots of time in a hammock on a little island that the locals call “fairies’ island” and that does feel utterly enchanted. I have always been drawn to islands and craggy places where you feel like you are on the edge of the world; and as you can see on this map, the Beara Peninsula qualifies.
I also enjoyed the friendship and cooking of the visionary owner/director of Anam Cara, Sue Booth-Forbes.
Sue never met John O’Donohue, but [S]he named her retreat after his [John O’Donohue’s] book, Anam Cara, Gaelic for “soul friend.” I learned about him from her, and this time was able to tell her all about the wonderful conversation I had with him, back in Minnesota, before his untimely passing.
I thought of him there, felt his spirit, and was differently attuned to the meaning and working of beauty, especially in that place — recalling his observation that the Greek word for “beauty” is the same word for “calling,” for example, and that a defining quality of beauty is that we feel more alive in its presence. I have spent time since pondering a wonderful statement he made, so true for me right now, that beauty isn’t all about “nice, loveliness like” but a “kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”