In June 2000, my mom and I spent 3 weeks in Ireland. It was the first time I’d ever been. Unfortunately, I haven’t been back since. We landed in Dublin and stayed with mom’s cousin Monika’s family in Leopardstown, traveling with them to Gnowth, Dowth, and New Grange to see neolithic passage graves. We also went on an Irish author pub tour and saw the Book of Kells and Brian Baurugh’s harp at Trinity Colleges. The youngest son, Fergus, went to a pub with me and told me that Guiness is only good drunk warm. From Dublin we drove through the military road through the Wicklow Mountains to Glendalough. The route through the green rolling hills was deserted but scenic. We were a funny pair, me driving on the left side of the road with left handed stick shift while my mom cowered in the back seat. When we finally arrived and could see Kevin’s tower, we decided to part ways and go for separate hikes. I’d been very irritated with my mom for the entire 5 days we’d been together, by seemingly small and unimportant things, particularly when we were with relatives. It was in part that she dominated the conversation and seemed not to be interested in giving me the chance to speak. What sent me over the edge was her compulsive checking of her watch. Comic now but grating as hell at the time. I know she felt my irritation and annoyance and felt judged. I hoped on the walk to find some equanimity in myself and forgive her idiosyncracies.
I found a small creek running in a chasm and sat alongside, listening to the dancing water and thinking about my behavior. I realized that I had unconsciously adopted my father’s judgemental criticism of my mom, and that I had identified with him as the strong man. I felt tears well up as I thought of my mom’s vulnerability (and my own) with my father, who was often unwaivering in his harshness. I felt a great desire to be forgiven by my mom and resolved to tell her of my revelation when I rejoined her.
I arose as I felt the need to stretch my legs and ran into a group of extremely jovial Brits having a walkabout in the Irish countryside. They were apparently on holiday from England and that encounter was so memorable that I remember it vividly still, these 16 years later. What a jolly group! I felt like joining their merry band. We walked and talked for some time before I left them to return to my mom. Upon our reunion I told her of my new awareness and apologized for my unfair harshness. While it didn’t complete abate during the course of the trip, my realization mellowed the critical voice within and made me a better travel companion.
But as for my encounter with the merry band of wandering Englishmen, I did not think I would ever hear from them again. What a surprise when I discovered the following message from their leader, Tom Coventry, 15 years later:
3/19/15 Hi Lisa (this is a shot in the dark!) – if you are the LK that went walking in the Wicklow mountains around 15 years ago and met (briefly) a group of elderly walking chaps (of which I was one), we are having a reunion tomorrow and will lift a glass to your achievement! If not you please ignore!!
Unfortunately I didn’t see the message for a full year, but when I did, I responded on March 21, 2016 as follows:
I am so honored by your email, the fact that your group remembered me for a time after our meeting (and I you, I reassure you!). I would love to be an honorary member of your group, very much so! I have a wonderful memory of talking with you all, and how jolly and upbeat you all were. I wanted to immediately follow you on your adventure and abandon mine, truth be told. But I was on the first trip to Ireland (thus far only) to meet relatives, as my mother’s parents were born in County Kerry and came over to the US after economic tribulations. What a wonderful thing that you were able to set aside one week a month for the purpose of walking with fellow travelers! I have a travel blog myself, which you will see below (may be changing to lisakarpinski.com). Shortly after I met you, I was diagnosed with rather challenging health problems of diffuse systemic scleroderma, Raynaud’s, and Hashimotos’ thyroiditis. The first is the tough one. So I spent a few years doing herbal remedies and acupuncture with the goal of healing so that I could do walkabouts and travel in general. I have healed well, and though I still have it, I chose not to work for money and instead dedicate my time to travel and culture. How I wish I could join you all for your April 15 meeting! How wonderful that you continue the tradition of meeting. Please give all my best and raise a glass from me to all of you. May your lives be blessed, and may you continue to have adventures as you are able. Please give my email to any who are interested in being in contact. I’d love to visit one of these days. I’ll be in London on May 10 and 11, so if anyone is local to London and interested in meeting while I’m there, let me know. Again, thank you so much Tom. I am honored at being remembered by you.
And Tom responded:
Hi! This was unexpected, a great surprise and quite timely. Seeing my approach of about a year ago, I was not initially clear in my mind how and why I had the cheeky idea of trying to contact you out of the blue! It came back to me – I mentioned we (the walking chaps) were about to have our annual reunion, at which it is traditional to toast ‘absent friends’ and as most of these were tending to be a bit predictable, I thought I might surprise them with a mention of you. Your brief sharing of our trail was fondly remembered – in the nicest possible way – by all present for some time afterwards.
Allow me just to fill in the background – I cannot now remember how much, if anything, we shared with you en route. Our group were (and still are) ‘The PARAs’. initially a small group of work colleagues from Shell Oil based around south Manchester, who inspired by one founder member took to walking in the Peak District, once a month, always taking the last Friday of each month off for the purpose. It quickly developed into a quite wonderful bit of organisation including election/adoption of new members, the allocation of planning and leadership of each walk for a year ahead at a time etc. It was an absolute communal democracy and a joy to all. It was by choice ‘Gentlemen only’ although this was never written down, so that we could never be accused of sexism! We agreed immediately that you had the unique (for ever) position of full honourable membership of the group. The Ireland trip, our only ever trip ‘abroad’ was notionally our 25th anniversary walk. I, gently approaching my ‘three-score and ten years’ (and a few others) have some time ago given up the serious walking but most of the surviving members meet up socially a few times a year and we retain our annual reunion which aims to get nearly all of us out together for a bit of food , a few beers and a lot of happy reminiscence. Plus the necessary conventions, including ‘absent friends’.
I have to say life in general is pretty good all round for most of us and the friendships we formed are unshakable. Now the timing coincidence is that your late response was just on the same day that we agreed our up-coming reunion date and details – it will fall on Friday 15th April.. By the way I too have been lost with some social media facilities! SO! if you would care to send back a brief note of greetings to the group, I will certainly pass it on at the meeting and (I can assure you) we shall raise our glasses to you with heartfelt best wishes.!
And a follow up email from Tom:
Thank you so much. I now in turn feel very honoured and grateful for your thoughts! I was very sorry to hear about your medical conditions but your strength and spirit shine so clearly, even through this shaky medium and half a world away that I am confident you will shine a while yet in whatever you choose.
I may not have been clear enough but there are a couple of little misunderstandings. Firstly our group started out having just one day a month off work to walk, not one week! This was a common north of England thing – the last Friday inn the month mostly was just before pay-day so it was a practical thing.
Secondly you (unkown to you) HAVE been an honorary life member of our group since the day we met. Those present agreed unanimously on our return to our overnight stop (in Laragh town as I recall) that it was the only way anyone walked with us and you were well worthy. There was, and still is one further unshakable rule – once elected a member no-one can ever be ejected or even resign for that matter, all members are for life. We like that.
I shall be recounting this correspondence at our up-coming reunion, and can assure you of a surge of well-wishing from every last one present. I will certainly include your being in London in May and you never know! All the very best to you. Whatever passes I will get back with a summary of our reunion. We do get full minutes of each meeting but they can go on a bit! Just all best wishes (from me) for the moment..
This correspondence was greatly appreciated and contradicted my sense of being forgettable yet remembering every detail of meetings with others, no matter how great or small. What a nice surprise to find that I have touched others as well. Not only does the world sometimes appear small, but a kindness can be repaid many years later. Reminds me of a fairy tale ;>
I enjoyed reading your story of meeting the merry walking gentlemen, and it is sweet how enthusiastically they accepted you! And I hear you on the stuff about having to learn to respect your mother after a long time of having your father disrespect her – that was a theme in my family too.
I love this. It inspires me to reach out the the man I played chess with on the porch of his cafe in Dallas to see if he remembers me too. I found him on facebook once and probably could again. I tend to be shy about such things.
Oh – this is so heartwarming! I love these ephemeral-meeting/enduring-connection friendships – I met an English postman and his family in Chartres in 1999 during the eclipse that summer, and we have remained in email contact ever since.
But I need to point out: you’ve left us hanging on the question of how the reconciliation with your mother went that day.
Sorry – I apologized that day on my behavior, and tried to explain the possible reason (imitating the way my father treated my mom). Took many years to really heal the rifts from that time.