Into the Empty Spaces

To be honest, I’ve thought about this year long before now, like most of us have, I imagine.

Last new year’s eve, we opened our home and celebrated with friends, then started the new year with our annual tradition of a walk with good friends, followed by food and drink. For 2016, we went to the Phoenix Park and then cosied up with hot drinks, a turf fire and a session in the Angler’s Rest in the Strawberry Beds. Little did we realise that exactly one week later we would again be welcoming friends and family to our home – this time to wake my mother-in-law – and the next day would follow her funeral mass with a lovely meal back in the Angler’s Rest, just up the road from where she’d spent her girlhood and early married life.

And so the year started as it meant to continue: full of those kind of surprise turns.

One child’s school year turned out to not be a time of learning to study in preparation for some intense state exams; rather, it brought lessons in minding physical and mental health, clear communication and walking through grief (much more useful skills!). Brilliantly, it was also a time where we saw the amazing support we had all around, not only for us but for our children.

The daunting project looking in at me through my back windows became manageable through a few simple diagrams, which led to an exploration of gardens around Dublin, and a lot of opportunities to have coffee with my husband.

The decisions to press ‘publish’ and click on the share buttons for this blog, to send some poetry to competitions, to submit an article to Irish radio were all a bit of those breath-holding, just take a step moments. Previous rejections had me half expecting the worst: outright rejection or pure silence.

I spent much of my creative time from about June to August preparing to lead a writing workshop for teens in a place I’d never been, with the added bonus of being in another language. I don’t think I stressed too much but I did put a lot of effort into my prep, realising, though, that there were a lot of unknowns in how the week would go. Group dynamics, individual personalities, varied expectations: who knew? There is almost no advance planning for all that. Turns out I had a wonderful group who were enthusiastic, open, understanding and whose English was much better than I had ever hoped. What I thought would be a week of giving, giving, giving, turned out to hold a lot more receiving.

As we neared the end of the year and entered the final steps of readiness for our eight month adventure to Canada, I still hadn’t quite got the idea that challenging things could not only work out but that they could bring joy or hope or gratitude with them, and that sometimes the final (or beginning, or middle) steps just have to be out over empty space. And there were a lot of empty spaces: our Canadian passports, which were backlogged with hundreds of others; no one available to stay in our home, despite lots of leads; too many things to tie up at work, including an office move (down 70 steps without a lift).

In the middle of all of this I was looking for a deal to get away for a weekend as part of a celebration for my husband’s birthday. Because it fell on a bank holiday weekend, there was nothing coming up, until by ‘chance’ a friend who runs tours into Ireland, Scotland and Wales ended up at our table early one morning after a flight from Atlanta. The joking comment about the castle they were renting having enough space for us morphed into flights booked that night, and four days later we were winding our way through Snowdonia, more beautiful than I’d ever imagined.

Except we didn’t know where we were going. We had plans to meet in a cafe at a certain time, but car hire and other complications meant we were late. We had no wifi, no phone number for our friend, no directions to the castle. We made up Plan B and tried to figure out a Plan C and remained nonchalant in front of the kids. We raced along. We held our breaths. We prayed. We prayed really hard. And I knew, finally, after so many previous 2016 steps, that this would be okay. We would be okay.

And yes, we did arrive in the cafe – with maybe 10 minutes to spare – and yes, the passports did arrive on time. Work is settled and wrapped for the year end. We are here in Canada, with one scout sleepover already under our belts. And a lovely wee family are enjoying our home.

So here’s to the empty spaces ahead: I hope you have the courage to listen to the voice that tells you to step out, and that your empty spaces fill with all good things in 2017.



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