By the time I made it to the Cliffs of Moher, I was raw.
I had been in Ireland for nearly four weeks (not even a quarter of my scheduled time in the country) and was suffering from severe homesickness. I cried myself to sleep every night; despite living out a life-long dream, all I wanted was for it to end.
I sat in my seat on the tour bus with my camera pressed against the window, my nose right beside it. The sun was shining brightly, a welcome respite from the endless rain that had been following me for the whole trip. I expected rain in Ireland – they are rather well known for their high levels of precipitation – but my trip so far had been dogged by continual downpours that lasted for upwards of twelve hours a day, accompanied by raging winds that sounded like women screaming. Locals were insistent that this was unusual weather, but that didn’t stop it from depressing the hell out of me. It seemed like my bleak mood had brought the even bleaker weather. The sunshine on this day felt like a gift, a glimmer of hope, a benediction.
The Irish countryside flew past the windows, as green and idyllic as one might imagine; as I had, indeed, always imagined. We stopped at a portal tomb on the Burren, which experts believe is close to 5000 years old. I stood next to it, staring at it hard, squinting my eyes, opening them wide, trying to feel the weight of all those years, but I couldn’t. They mostly looked like rocks to me. But that was okay, because the history was interesting, and the burren was windswept and glorious in a desolate sort of way. Rage-filled storm clouds were building on the horizon. Our tour guide had told me a story about a woman who had visited the cliffs on five separate occasions and never actually seen them; too much sea fog.
I prayed that the weather would behave itself.
When we got to the cliffs, I stepped off the bus, not sure what to expect. The sky was grey and dreary, raindrops already beginning to fall. My heart sank. Was this going to be another adventure washed out by the weather?
I trudged up the hill towards O’Brien’s Tower, battling what felt like gale force winds. The horizon was a hazy yellow, the seas full of adolescent rage as they threw themselves against the rocks again and again some seven hundred feet below. I paid two euro and climbed to the top of the tower. It was damp and chilly inside, the cliche kind that coats your skin like moss, and seeps, insidious, into your bones. I viewed the cliffs through the crenellations, took a few arty pictures (one with a raindrop smack in the middle of the lens), and tried to quell my disappointment.
Stumbling a few times on the steep hill away from the tower, I headed up the other side of the cliffs, where I was greeted with an even steeper climb. Good thing it isn’t hot, I thought. Along the way, there were signs posted urging anyone feeling suicidal to get help. I guess the cliffs are a popular spot for that.
From this vantage point, O’Brien’s Tower was miniscule. It was hard to believe that I had been standing at the top of it just a few minutes earlier, that it wasn’t a child’s toy. I stepped as close to the edge as I dared, which was pretty close. Probably too close. A sheer drop opened below me less than two feet away. As I looked, a low thrum of awe began to pulse in my chest. And then, brilliantly, like God and his covenant with Noah, there was a rainbow.
It wasn’t a big one. It wasn’t even a fully developed one. It was barely visible, there on top of the water between the cliffs and the Aran Islands, but it was there. I could see it. I turned my face up to the newly arrived sun, the wind on my cheeks, and I felt an almost unbearable tug, a desperate, wild yearning to be part of all the unfettered beauty all around me, to spread my arms wide and give myself up to the cliffs. Not in a suicidal way; more like a communion. I stood so close to the edge of the world and I felt my heart beating in my chest and it seemed to be saying, you are alive, you are alive, you are alive.
In the wind and rain and sun that day, the raw skin of my heart began to heal. The trip didn’t miraculously turn itself around. My homesickness didn’t magically disappear. Ultimately, I went home three months earlier than planned. But that day on the cliffs, some scrabbling, caged part of me went calm, if only for a few hours.