This is another post about Ireland. I’ve been waiting for photos in order to write it. It is about the third and final week that I spent hanging out around Dublin.
There are people whose character can be explained, I think, by the ease with which others find themselves in comfortable relation to them whether it’s a first meeting or a reunion after many years apart.
Allan and I met while working at YM/YWCA Camp Stephens summer camp in Lake of the Woods, Ontario in the early 1990s. I liked him straight away. He was quick to laugh uninhibitedly, had a sharp wit that to me always signals a highly intelligent mind, and he was a showman worthy of a stage and script that were greater than the dining hall and skits we performed there for hundreds of children each summer.
That is not to say he was just some shallow ball of hilarity 24 hours a day. I observed him to be levelled by a heavy dose of seriousness that seemed grounded in issues of social justice but that could also be triggered by poor manners and general disrespect. He was a particular guy and wasn’t shy about where he stood on things.
Allan created inclusiveness for those who were (and often still are) considered outside the “norm” without fanfare. I never got the sense he was making a point. He very simply could see a place for everyone in the world and enjoyed the company of people for who they were and what they offered in their own right.
He taught me a few things about life and opened my eyes to new ideas.
The first big moment I remember is that a school group of high school students who had intellectual disabilities came to camp for a week one spring. Allan was co-ordinating their activities and I got to go along to help stern a canoe one day. I was nervous. Nervous about how to communicate with people who acted very differently than others their age and who couldn’t always communicate easily. Nervous about what their abilities would be in the canoe or if they could swim or if they would “freak out” and how I should handle that if it happened. Allan acted as if the excursion was absolutely no different than any other outing with teenagers. That made me nervous in the beginning to. Was he being naive?
We went to a marsh and paddled around exploring the habitat and wildlife. I remember the two girls in my boat were giggling and talking about boys they fancied and dances and fashion just like my friends and I had at their age. They were so funny and fun to be with and I loved my time with them. It dawned on me that their wants and needs were absolutely no different than anyone else and that the successes they would achieve in life were as worthy of celebration as anyone’s. That experience actually led me to a career for several years working with people, from infants to senior citizens, who had mental and / or physical disabilities and / or mental illness.
I remember another day at camp when a boy of about 12 or 13 was being quite belligerent and bullyish with others. Allan happened by and as a senior staff member, stepped in to correct the boy’s behaviour. The kid didn’t back down but instead upped his acting out by calling Allan a “fag.”
Outrage would be an understatement to describe Allan’s reaction. My god but that kid got a tongue lashing! I would only come to understand years later the personal implications of that offensive language for Allan, but in that exact moment, what I took away from the experience was just how powerful words are. Language can be used like weaponry and words have the ability to injure, isolate, shame, demonize and condemn. I was impressed by Allan’s refusal to let the boy get away with his bullying and realized that as long as any of us stays quiet when hurtful language is used, we are as equally guilty of wounding others.
One winter, Allan was living in an apartment building on a street that some poll had declared as the murder capital of Canada while I was apparently living in a house at the accident capital corner of Canada, both in the city of Winnipeg. We lived not far from one another and after visiting him, Allan would always walk me to the bus stop and wait to see me off. Ever the gentleman!
The only thing though, at that time, Allan was a tall, willowy drink of water with very long, sleek, blonde hair and good fashion sense. I was into baggy, worn out, blue jeans and oversized plaid shirts with a crew cut. It occurred to me that maybe it should have been me walking him home. In the dark of night, if an attacker was choosing a victim by silhouette, I’m not sure that I was the one most in danger …
Ahhh gender roles vs reality vs external expression through fashion vs plain decency and being a good friend. There’s just so much rolled up into all of those things. I could pick that one apart for the next 10 hours! Or I could just go with my instinct which is, as a survivor of sexual assault, it meant the world to me that he cared enough to see me safely onto the bus.
So those are just three stories. I could go on, but fast-forward. Allan ended up in England. We hadn’t seen one another since 1994 but had kept in sporadic contact through email over the years. When I booked my plane ticket to Dublin, I asked if he would be interested in meeting for a visit.
So it was on a rainy evening (the FIRST real rain I’d had in Ireland in my two plus weeks there!) that I walked into the foyer of the Ibis hotel and saw him sitting at a table.
It was surreal. I knew it was him. He hasn’t changed except that he’s gotten significantly more buff and chiseled over the years and cut his hair short, but very obviously it was him. And yet I was hesitant. I didn’t want to run up and give the wrong guy a giant bear hug. So we had a funny moment of just looking at each other before believing our eyes. Then we headed up to the room we were sharing and had another laugh.
As young adults at summer camp, it was no big deal for several of us to pile into one cabin on weekends off with our sleeping bags. Completely innocent stuff, like a pile of puppies who crave the warmth and company of others. So we both assumed we were going to do the same thing in Dublin in 2014 but never really discussed it. Once in the room it was like, “Is this okay?!” Well, of course it was. And that is a bit what I mean with my opening statement to this blog. I think you know a person’s character based on how at ease you are with them whether you’ve just met or it’s been 20 years since you laid eyes on one another.
And you know what the best part of the visit was? I don’t think we spent more than two minutes reminiscing about summer camp days. We had so much to talk about in the here and now, about our current lives and hopes and dreams, and about the sights and sounds around us in Dublin. It felt like we were picking up as if 20 years hadn’t passed between being together.
The only thing I am sad about is that I ended up feeling very out of sorts the day we departed for home – England and Canada – and I was a bit distant and distracted. It hit me hard that you just never know when you’ll see a person again when there’s that big of a geographical distance between you. I know that the same is true when you say good-bye to your next door neighbour. Anything can happen any time, but there’s something about there being a country and ocean in the way and being in our 40s now that made me really think, will I ever see him again? I was too discombobulated to be able to articulate that. I try not to dwell in that place because we had such fun and hanging with Allan for those few days was special. It’s an experience that I’ll hold close to my heart for ever.
The dumb thing I did was that I never had a camera on me. I didn’t have my smart phone with me and I was loathe to look too much like a tourist in Dublin so I didn’t carry my camera. That meant that Allan took all of the photos on his phone. Both of us are apparently slightly technologically challenged and busy with life so it has taken us six months to find the time and figure out how to share the photos that he took.
So here is some of the fun we had in Dublin. We did NOT hang out in pubs at night.We played Jenga in the hotel room! Oh yes we did.
We most definitely went to Murphy’s for ice-cream because I’d had it in Dingle, there are only three stores in the whole of Ireland and it’s awesome tasty.
For sure we went to a museum all about the Vikings and their time in Duiblinn “Black Pool,” where we wrote our names using runes and laughed til we cried over an exhibit showing how moss can be used for toilet paper. A mannequin male sitting on the shitter was groaning with great gusto as sounds of farting emanated from speakers. Allan recorded it and used it to greet me with the next morning. Like he was stalking me while I slept, just waiting for me to show signs of waking and then PFFFFTHTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!! “OHHHHHH!” “AHHHHHHH” PSFTHTTTTTT!!!!! is what I opened my eyes to followed by Allan bursting into gales of laughter.
He took lovely artistic images and made me look kind of cool as we explored the architecture of different buildings in the city.
We each had a specific place we were interested in visiting in Dublin. Allan told me some of the history of Oscar Wilde including his imprisonment for being gay. As if somehow who Oscar loved and how he identified was criminal or dangerous. We spent some time imbibing in a pub that just happened to have a Wilde quote framed behind Allan’s head.
OF COURSE we went to view the Book of Kells, which I found extraordinary. To get that close to such an aged document of such beauty, intricate design and deep thought was quite moving. I am a writer and I love words so I guess it makes sense that it made me feel suddenly connected to the past and history in a way that felt incredibly tangible. It was the closest I think I’ll get to time travelling (something I’ve dreampt of being able to do since I was a kid).
We creeped ourselves out by ducking out of the soggy rain and into a building chalk full of taxidermied animals from around the world. The dust mite load in that place made my skin crawl. BUT, nothing’s funnier than when your friend is trying to frame you in a photo and says, “Just move a bit this way, and step forward, anddddddd … My, what a big rack you have!”
I’m a sucker for a pun and the extinct giant red deer.
But let’s be serious about the real reason I ever went to Ireland, and thank you Allan for indulging me. I’ve been dreaming since 1987 of seeing Windmill Lane Studios where U2 recorded much of their music. I’ve read about and seen photos of where people sign their names and leave their artwork on the studio walls and laneway.
But when it came time to add my two cents, I had no words to write, funny enough. “Thank you” felt cheesy and couldn’t encompass all that I feel about their music or how the band shaped my youth and affirmed many of the deep thoughts I was having about how the world works as I entered adulthood. So I just signed my Zoo handle for the friends I’ve made along the way; people who I know share that same depth of gratitude and affection for U2 and their music.
We finished off eating at a restaurant that Allan had dined in the first time he visited Dublin.
And so much more, but that’s what we have photos of.
Until next time, dear friend. Let’s not wait another 20 years.