The reason? Novel human coronavirus, or COVID-19, a highly infectious disease sweeping the globe right now, and along with it a hurricane of public anxiety and media frenzy.
In short, I've never seen anything like this in my life. People are downright agitated, if not outright scared. It doesn't help that media--especially social media--exaggerates, deflects, or minimizes the threat, and in some cases, even spreads disinformation on the pandemic. Large sections of empty store shelves bear mute witness to the utter irrationality of public panic. Schools and churches are closed until further notice. Sporting and concert events are cancelled. Many have elected to "socially distance" if not quarantine themselves for fear of contracting (or spreading) the disease. Gratefully, there hasn't been any looting, rioting or other mass disruptions to utilities and transportation, and I sincerely hope there isn't.
That is the zeitgeist of these times.
Regardless of tumult and uncertainty, Paddy's day, of course, will always be special to me no matter what, and since I've never really been much for public gatherings anyway, I'm not too sorry for cancelled parades and such (which here are more like glorified flea markets with drunks and "clovers" strewn about).
What do I think about when I think about Ireland then? A few things come to mind: 1) the many "odd coincidences" I and my family had while there and 2) the many dear friends and family we got to see and share the Irish magic with. 3) the wonderful friends we made.
I believe a few of these older posts touch on these coincidences, but I should mention a few. First, I want to say that philosophically I really don't believe in coincidences. I truly believe our lives have a plan and a purpose, and that events (big or small) are meant to shape, strengthen and grow us. The people whom we encounter can shape and direct our paths for the better. Now I also don't believe that means if today's the 15th of March I should go all nutso over the number 15 or look for deep meaning in meaningless things. Rather, I believe we should look at the events of our lives and the people we meet as meaningful and not just accident--for us and them.
So, coincidences. Here are a few: While attending church in Dublin a family introduced themselves as "the Thornocks". Our friends in our home ward in South Carolina were also Thornocks. It turns out it was his brother visiting with his family who just happened to attend our ward that Sunday!
Another time I made an appointment to visit the dentist for a checkup. The dentist who attended me asked where I was from (a common question since it was clear by my accent I wasn't Irish). In the same manner, I could tell he wasn't Irish either--my first guess would have been Spanish. As I usually did in situations like that, I told him I grew up in western United States (considering the geography of Meridian Idaho a bit too obscure for most Irish). He asked what state? Idaho. Then what city? Boise. After a little chuckle, he said "That's where I was born too". I could hardly believe it. It turns out he is Basque and spent the first 10 years or so of his life there. Boise still has a small but significant Basque community, including a "Basque District".
Other incidents were still small, like the day I wore my Washington shirt and ran into an Irish guy sporting WSU sweatshirt. He had picked it up in a gift shop on a business trip to Seattle. I told him he really needed to get a better sweatshirt. . .
There were other little coincidences, but a fairly big one that occurred actually was when we had come back to the US. As part of our church, we had been invited to setup a booth for a "tour of the world" activity. Of course, we set up an Ireland booth, but we weren't the only one. The other booth was laid out with some pretty authentic gear and attended by an Irish woman. Upon talking to her and asking a few questions it became clear that this was the sister of some friends from ours in the church in Dublin! Another wow, small world moment.
Aside from coincidences, I also reflect upon the many wonderful visitors we were able to host while we were there. Interestingly enough, all of the friends that I had visit were made from my time at the University of Washington business program or Seattle. That's right: all of them. I don't know if that in and of itself is a coincidence but I do find it meaningful, partly because I consider my time at the UW and Seattle a treasured experience as well. So, to Will, Patrick & Noelle, Ambrose, Lara, Laura & Phil, and Jason (twice!), thank you for sharing with me the wonderful Irish experience and helping me to weave two magnificent experiences together.
Finally, I reflect upon the many, many people we got to associate with and those who became our friends. Nearly everyone I got the pleasure of working with at AIB became my good friends. It's also interesting because we were able to make strong bonds not only with the Irish, but also the Swedes, the Swiss--all countries with connections to my family's ancestry. This doesn't include the many literally from all over the world whom I was blessed to associate with, even if only briefly.
This is just a small snippet of the amazing experience packed into just two years in Ireland. This is why I so dearly treasure my time there. This is why Paddy's day is a lot more to me than shamrocks and leprechauns.
So in these uncertain and unprecedented times I hope that all of you are safe, healthy and can in some way find a shred of normalcy amidst the tumult. If Ireland taught me one thing, it's be optimistic. Why? There's a huge story there too, but the quick version is the Irish are realistic but positive. They play GAA in March in the rain. . .