Immensely overlooked in my blog this year has been one of the three biggest champions in my life. Some friends say ‘There’s definitely a book hiding in you, so it’s time to start writing that autobiography.’ The word ‘autobiography’ fills me with trepidation though, as I immediately think of the libraries I worked in, and I see long shelves packed with autobiographies of distinguished writers or obscure rock stars.
Perhaps we secretly all want to write a book, and if we dare being vain, write our own biography, with your good self as the protagonist, Hercules-style. The name of the main character in my autobiography might perhaps surprise you.
It’s not multiple sclerosis; any illness that tries taking my identity doesn’t deserve the main role in my book.
It’s not the hospital or my pharmacy, either.
Hell, it’s not even myself.
What if I told you that my lead character can be typified as green, barren, others, feral, loving, sensing, engaging, grand, and… home.
You guessed right.
Ireland. The opposite of what I had known as a child and as a teenager.
When growing up, I always felt different. At times, I even felt awkward, trying to find my place in a world that seemed too individualistic, too arrogant or indifferent for my own good. I loved my family and friends of course, but outside that circle of familiar warmth, I sometimes felt lost. When I looked outside, there was no connection with the history of Belgium, no love for its geography, and apathy about what went on in its society.
If I knew any better, I would have described it as a midlife crisis at the age of 15 or 16. I simply knew that as an adult, I wouldn’t go down the normal life path of college, marriage, dog, children, lawn mower. It just never felt like, ‘me’. Figuring out the next move after college was going to determine how I would spend the rest of my life.
Sure, I had many friends, and as children and young teens we dreamed of marrying pop stars – Kardashian style – and having the most amazing children in the world. We dreamed of having enough money to travel, buy ridiculously difficult to wear shoes and having a few houses across the world. As teens we went out, treated our home as a hotel and refused to study. In other words, we dreamed of living the life of WAGoDUPS, the ‘wives and girlfriends of dried up pop stars’ and as little rebels. Little did we realise that life is well… utterly different from ‘Sex in the City’.
By the time I was 16, my mam remarried, and although my stepdad wasn’t the easiest to deal with at times (The Congo and malaria made him a challenge every now and then), but he opened my eyes to the beauty of this world.
He was well-travelled, well-spoken, damn funny but most of all, intelligent. I remember many chats between my mam, stepdad and myself about religion, history etc. He woke up a few neurons in my brain that to this day, still thank him for opening my eyes. He showed me that the world is there for the taking as long as you have brawn and brains.
He used to come to Ireland as a truck driver, but found Dublin ‘like a third world country’ back in the 80s. He mentioned he also had Irish friends, and straightaway, as an impressionable 16-year-old girl, I was interested and wanted to see it for myself. Since then the dream that was Ireland grew stronger as time went on. It merely felt as if I now had my stepdad’s approval, even though he later famously said I’d move back to Belgium after 3 months, and that because of that, he wouldn’t say goodbye to me on the day I moved.
Today, 12 years, 6 weeks and 1 day since moving over, Ireland is still the protagonist in my life that runs away with its stories, and drags me along in its clear chants and rebel songs. I hear tears falling on the sound of uilleann pipes; I feel the waves when I read Seamus Heaney’s ‘Lovers on Aran’. I’ve walked with James Joyce and listened to William Butler Yeats. It feels as if my heart came home. In my mind, I was already part of Ireland.
Life took a different turn in April 2005 when MS took over my plans for the future. I slowly saw the dream of finding a new Irish boyfriend willing enough to love as I am, MS included, disappear. As I get older, I realise now that this will forever be a dream. I will not settle for anything less, though. Either my next boyfriend will be Irish, or there simply won’t be a relationship.
In my opinion, Irish people are quite passionate and proud people. They want to share these feelings with me and call me ‘more Irish than some Irish people’. Hearing this means the world to me. I also still find so much goodwill in them; they are gracious, genuinely interested in other people and they could talk about the weather for hours. Even better, they could talk for hours, period.
In those 12 years, I’ve never experienced one bad comment about my being here, and have numerous examples of stories that show that Irish people are the best people in the world. In return, I try to be the best I can be so I can help others, and having Irish people invite me to advocate or write for them, makes the circle of giving and caring complete.
Gone however, is the old romantic view I used to have of Ireland. In fact, it went before my first anniversary of living here. Realistically, Ireland is portrayed a certain way to attract tourists, almost to a point where American people come to Ireland to search for leprechauns. We’re not all redheads with blue eyes, and we’re not all speaking Irish (Gaelic). Accepting that this kind of Ireland of old is gone will only make you want to learn more about its society and history.
Whatever Irish people do, stand for and fight for, I am with them in heart and soul. Ireland showed me what love is all about, what pride means and they taught me that whoever you are, you are more than welcome. The only thing now missing, is an Irish passport.
As I write this, tears well up just thinking of the beauty of Kerry, the ruggedness of Donegal, the alternative mind of Belfast, the pride of tall Munster men, the love of Dubliners for their town. I hear their music and feel the taps of their dancing.
I’ve been there and everywhere in Ireland, and every time, I was one of their own. That in itself is the teenage dream quadrupled. If not more.
© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.