by Amanda Cleary Eastep
We stepped up to our ankles in the cold water, careful to keep our footing on the gray and brown mosaic of smooth stones beneath our pale feet.
This simple act was a pinnacle moment–leaving our shoes on the gritty sand of the “bonny, bonny bank” and walking together into Loch Lomond, as a misty rain dispersed our fellow tourists and pulled a silver veil over our heads and the ancient green hills rising like a deep breath on the other side.
Even though I had been to the United Kingdom at 18, I had wanted to return since the day I left. Scotland, especially, held some magical sway over me.
For years, I dreamed of once again stepping carefully along the rocky shores of the lochs and seeing those hills. I wondered then, and still do, about the solitary, square white houses that sit at the base of many, each one like a carefully placed stone, weathered by time and waiting.
Like that, my desire sat stalwart at the foot of my heart “an unrequited love. A dull ache that—try as you might to think it away, to convince yourself that she really wasn’t the right country for you—just won’t leave you in peace.”*
I had held on to the dream for so long that I began to wonder if I had become more enamored with the dream itself than the actual journey and destination.
When I finally traveled back in June with my father and my college-aged daughter, I also wondered if I would sense that same magical feeling, the one in which every experience is new, but seems old too. . .
. . .like a glimpse of a previous life you catch out of the corner of your eye when you’re walking up a dirt path into the pasture and the angle of the hill grasps at your legs and the sheep bleat their protests at the storm clouds painting the horizon dark blue.
I was a child when I decided I wanted to go to England.
“Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.” –Judith Thurman
That was me, homesick from the age of 7 until I made the first journey in college.
It’s such an odd thing to want something for no reason whatsoever. For a desire to suddenly enter your head like the scent of salt water when you’re planted firmly in the Midwest.
It’s not unlike writing. . .the way that unsolicited knowledge of a person, place, and plot sneak attacks your brain and begins to daily assimilate you into a world of fictional characters and their stories. A world that you–silently and unbeknownst to those around you–either visit each day or long for when you don’t.
That 30-year dream to return to the UK is now a month-old memory. . .plus a crumpled baggage tag still clinging to my suitcase, a pile of receipts for red double-decker bus souvenirs, a few hurried journal entries, and too many iPhone pictures of sheep.
There’s another photo too. . .
During my first trip in college, one of my traveling companions took a picture of me, squatted on some big rock near one of the lakes, I always thought Loch Lomond. I remember it was Scotland because it was misty and cool, and I was wearing a cable knit sweater and my mother’s mauve rain jacket. Last month, I had hoped to reenact the photo near one of the lochs, but the whole idea slipped my mind once I was there and simply immersed in the moment by moment experiences.
I was back home in the States and had settled into those routines you want to escape from but then begin to look forward to after a week of everything being different–from another country’s definition of good coffee to driving 1,000 miles (kilometers?) on the opposite side of the road (read: circling roundabouts like a roulette ball).
Then my daughter, who had stayed in the UK to begin a semester abroad, sent me her own version of my old photo.
When I saw the the present and past side by side, one story overlapping another, I was struck by how important it is for our children to see us realize our dreams (or at least continue to strive toward realizing them) and how sharing our stories can even inspire others in theirs.
Traveling back was important to me too. By committing to it, planning, and buying the nonrefundable ticket, I could prove to myself that if this dream could come true so many years later, then other dreams, like publishing books, still could too.
Living out one dream emboldens you to realize another one. It firmly holds open the door that your fears and excuses have been kicking shut as you simultaneously pull on the doorknob.
And, admittedly, at this point in my life, I don’t want to relegate my dreams to a bucket list. Buckets are for mops and baling out leaky boats, not for precious dreams.
Not for experiences that connect our story with other people and their stories. . .that inspire our children to reach for the opposite shore.
*Eric Weiner, The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World