I am back in the office after the first real extended period of rest I’ve had since we started producing SOF weekly six years ago. Esther Sternberg’s analogy of a “reboot” was completely apt. I had to shut down, in every way. My dear colleagues created the space in our collective work life for me to be able to do so. They changed my e-mail password (at my request), so I could break the habit of e-mail; it took me weeks to stop trying to log in, compulsively, practically in my sleep. I called this my e-mail sabbatical.
And I went back to a magical place, the Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat, where I had gone once before, three summers ago, when I was finishing my book. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever experienced, but I was a crazy person on deadline.
This time, I was able to soak up the beauty, to read as much as write, and write what gave me pleasure. I spent lots of time in a hammock on a little island that the locals call “fairies’ island” and that does feel utterly enchanted. I have always been drawn to islands and craggy places where you feel like you are on the edge of the world; and as you can see on this map, the Beara Peninsula qualifies.
I also enjoyed the friendship and cooking of the visionary owner/director of Anam Cara, Sue Booth-Forbes.
Sue never met John O’Donohue, but [S]he named her retreat after his [John O’Donohue’s] book, Anam Cara, Gaelic for “soul friend.” I learned about him from her, and this time was able to tell her all about the wonderful conversation I had with him, back in Minnesota, before his untimely passing.
I thought of him there, felt his spirit, and was differently attuned to the meaning and working of beauty, especially in that place — recalling his observation that the Greek word for “beauty” is the same word for “calling,” for example, and that a defining quality of beauty is that we feel more alive in its presence. I have spent time since pondering a wonderful statement he made, so true for me right now, that beauty isn’t all about “nice, loveliness like” but a “kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”