On the Road

Objects at rest will stay at rest and objects in motion will stay in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

My great grandmother Mary Somers was born in 1852 in County Limerick, Ireland. She immigrated to New Britain, Connecticut with her family when she was nine years old. She went to school until she was eleven and then went to work. At age 16, she had a fight with her mother, took her life savings and went down to the train station where she placed half of it on the counter and bought a one-way ticket for as far as the money would take her. The conductor told her to get off in Cleveland. She married O’Brien The Mover, had ten children and became the vet for the horses that did all the moving. What if the money had gotten her to Chicago?

Dumb luck, pure chance, disasters, miracles. Solid turns to liquid, liquid turns to gas. In a leap of faith, solid turns to gas.

Mad King Sweeney was an Irish king who ruled the roost in Medieval Ireland. A renegade, prone to losing his temper, impulsive and lawless, he would fly off the handle at the drop of a hat. He had a fight with Ronan Finn, the cleric. He threw Ronan’s hymnal into the lake. Oh, an otter fished it out, but Ronan cursed Sweeney, turned him into a bird, and banished him to roam the rocky crags of Northern Ireland. Sweeney lost his home, his wife, his friends and was forced into a life of bitter self-examination. He was set adrift from all known places. Isolated in his tree-top dwelling, he became an observer, a philosopher.

In search of wholeness, we take journeys we might not want to take.

Everything is in constant flux. Everyone is moving from one state to another, from liquid to solid to gas, from Ohio to São Miguel, from Lampedusa to Akron. The swallows and butterflies gather in clouds of frenzy for their trek South. This one is getting married, that one is leaving a group of childhood friends. Life is ebb and flow. We strike it rich! We lose what we thought was a sure thing.

We make one small decision that changes everything – to buy a house by the sea, to enter the convent, to take that teaching job in Korea.

Or perhaps, even if we do none of this, we are nevertheless changed by simply walking through life. And like a balloon, which never returns to its original state once inflated, we never return to those roads not taken.

Elaine is 89. She lives in the same assisted living place as my aunt. Many of the people are from the area. She is not. Her daughter lives in town. That is why she is here. She is suffering.

“I’m not complaining,” she says. “I’ve had a very good life.”

She raised her family in Rochester, NY. Her husband was a newspaper man, then went into advertising. They did well. Elaine has an elegance and kindness about her. But she is afraid now of death, of the tumor growing in her brain. She wonders aloud if she truly appreciated her former life.

We can’t fully understand our lives as we are living them. The meaning appears later. An old Irish saying goes, Is maith an scéalaí an aimsir. Time is the great storyteller.

The Goths headed South, the Visigoths headed East, the Hondurans are headed North, the Conestoga wagons headed West.

For every action there is always an opposite and equal reaction.

On the Day of the Absent Ipalans, in a small town in Guatemala, townsfolk celebrate those who strike out for a better life. Jennifer Sagastume, who lives with her house-cleaner mother in Maryland, came back a few years ago to be crowned “Queen of the Absent Ipalans.” She is proof of a better life in a promised land. But she also speaks to another dream: the possibility of return and perhaps the possibility of never having to leave.

Objects at rest will stay at rest and objects in motion will stay in motion.

The world is made up of leavers and stayers. Leavers set out for adventure, for safety, for growth, fame, fortune, freedom. Stayers stay for stability, for fear, for family, friends. Rilke knew them both, the one who ‘stands up during supper and walks outdoors and keeps on walking’ and another who ‘remains inside his own house, stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses’.

Perhaps we all end up a bit wistful for what might have been.

Kate Sullivan likes to play around with words, music and pictures. She is the author/illustrator of two children’s books, On Linden Square and What Do You Hear?. A linguist by training, she is also an award-winning composer and performer. Her one-woman theatre piece LENYA! won the Independent Reviewers of New England prize and her Fugitum Est was premiered by The Kremlin Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. She has given many solo performances, singing, playing the piano, guitar or, on special occasions, the musical saw.

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