I am sitting on the floor of my childhood bedroom, trying to cram the third bottle of Penney’s Sunkissed tan into my 23kg suitcase bound for Vancouver. Eighteen months ago, I returned to Ireland “for a short visit” having lived abroad in Canada for over four years. More of my twenties were spent on another continent than in my place of birth. I love Canada, I love my life there, the people and the landscape.
I came home to see my family and reconnect with this country and culture I adore so much. I planned to write about it all, and in the writing I’d hoped I might find an acceptance of leaving Ireland behind for my new home across the pond.
But since coming back I have never written so little.
In between frustrating afternoons sitting in front of a long suffering word document, every day still managed to be filled.
I spent nights staying up far too late, each time with a different constellation of my family around our well-worn kitchen table, laughing, bickering, and loving one another in the odd and comfortable ways family do.
I helped my parents with shopping lists, renovation projects and mid-week dinners. I picked my brother up from school, argued with my siblings and made up again. I bumped into my grandfather baling silage on the walks to my aunty’s house, and while I was there I labored through endless games of catch with her toddlers.
I danced in rainy fields with no shoes on at festivals, I chatted the ear off someone else from “down the country” in a jam packed smoking area in Smithfield. I cried the first time I heard Dreams by the Cranberries playing at the end of a night out, surrounded by my Irish friends again for the first time in four years.
I spent hours lying in fresh spring grass, getting my mileage out of the long stretch in the evening, listening to swallows building their nests and thinking “there couldn’t be a better place than this one”. I did everything I promised myself I would do on the long days away where I missed home the most.
Now, as I engage in a battle of wills with the zipper of my suitcase, I know it’s time to return to Canada. Yet, I can’t help but feel my heart breaking a little as it tries to hold on to that sunny field with the swallows, or Dolores O’Riordans lilt on a sweaty dance floor as the lights come on at 2am.
I had thought this time at home would offer me some closure. A sort of peace in facing the seemingly imminent permanence of my life abroad. And yet, once we build our home far away, I think a part of us can never quite be still again. Even in our moments of greatest contentment, there will always be one foot itching for the Emerald Isle. It is a long recorded affliction, and still, despite knowing I am not the first to feel it, I have yet to manage curing the cumha that’s settledness on me.
Maybe we are not supposed to.
So, Dear Expat, I write this letter specifically for you.
Because there is no clean closure I have to give you when your heart exists in two different places at once. When it beats to the rhythm of two different ways of living. There is no silver lining, only that I suggest you let it break your heart. And in the process, it will crack you wide open. And you will live, with this open, gaping heart. And it will amaze you with its ability to stretch so wide, wider than you ever thought possible, to encapsulate everything you love so dearly.
Even the tears, even the homesickness, even the way the thought of that infamous advert for Barrys Tea in South East Asia can make you crumble on a particularly bad day. Even when people dont understand your accent or the Reeling in the Years video you were in absolute stitches over. Even when you’re straining to hear your granny ask how the weather is on a choppy WhattsApp call while your ten cousins roar with laughter over pulling crackers in the background on Christmas morning.
All of it, every bit of it, welcome it all. You have lived enough and loved enough to have found something worth breaking your heart open for.
The past versions of ourselves and all the places and people we have loved echoes through us, making us up so that we are a living testament to that love. We carry it with us as much as we do our leaden rucksacks through those departure gates.
Let yourself be that love; that uncontainable, uncategorical, un-closureable love. Let it be the shining light that carries you around the world.
Thank you, Ireland, for everything.
Until Next Time,
Written by Danielle Lynch @daniellecatherinelynch