Monday, February 15, 2016

Travel Report, EPT12 Dublin, Day 4 -- The Girl from Kilkenny

Was another long one at the Royal Dublin Society today helping cover a couple of different events in the EPT12 Dublin festival.

The first half of the day I spent with the 10K Single-Day High Roller, then after that I moved over to help out with Day 1b of the Main Event. Went for a longish walk beforehand and again during the later dinner break, seeing a couple of rugby stadiums nearby and even watching part of a practice. All that added up to 18,000-ish steps by night’s end, so I’m pretty beat.

The most memorable part of the day, however, had to do with an exchange of emails I had early on with a person living here in Dublin. I’m afraid fatigue is going to force me to make a long story short, but hopefully I can convey the gist well enough here.

Way, way back when I was just eight or nine, I had a pen pal in Ireland, a girl of my same age from Kilkenny. Perhaps some of you experienced something similar, too, when you were younger. My elementary school set it up. I remember most everyone else got pen pals in France. I think the idea was for the French kids to practice their English (although we weren’t studying French). But for some reason mine was from Ireland. Actually I might’ve chosen that, perhaps just to be different.

For a few months or maybe a year she and I wrote letters back and forth to each other. Some time after that -- late teens -- we picked back up our correspondence and wrote each other a lot more, probably up until we were 19 or 20.

My memory isn’t very clear, but I think we probably wrote back and forth for at least two or three years during that latter period, and quite frequently. Not only did we write each other a lot, but we shared a lot about ourselves, too. Somewhere we trailed off writing, though, and while I’ve thought about her off and on I’d never really spent any time looking for her online or anything.

Now I’m in Ireland, my first ever visit. And I suppose it was inevitable I’d think about my pen pal again and wonder where she might be. So I searched a little and found someone with her name who just happened to be right here at Trinity College, a place I visited my first day here.

From details about her on the college’s site she seemed about the right age, and interestingly we seemed to have a lot in common (academics, teaching, writing). Could it be...? I couldn’t resist sending a note just to see if she perhaps might be my friend (whom, of course, I have never met in person).

She wrote back right away, sending a very nice note letting me know she wasn’t my pen pal. I may search around a bit more while I’m here, although I’m not too optimistic given that it has been over 25 years and chances are good that my friend has married and has a different name today.

I was kind of caught off guard, though, by how emotional that exchange of emails was for me. Just the act of writing her again (even it it turned out to be someone else) -- of addressing her by name in the greeting -- made me think all sorts of thoughts about being young, getting older, and the people who give our lives meaning as they pass in and out of them.

Only about a half-hour or so passed before the reply came. During that brief period I became filled with a kind of nervous hope, and then afterwards felt a strange sort of sadness. I miss my friend.

I’ve said before how I have always had an affinity for Ireland even before coming here. Studying Irish literature had a lot to do with it, and I do happen to have a great-grandparent or two from Ireland as well. But I’m realizing now it was the girl from Kilkenny who really drew me here, who made me want to see some of what she described to me so many years ago.

Photo: “Ireland,” John Flannery. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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