Later today, I'll put my oldest daughter on a plane to Ireland. She's not a very old daughter, either! She's twelve and she (and the rest of us) struck gold on grandparents. My folks and my daughter, Molly Murphy Graham, will board a big ole Delta plane and cross the ocean. (It's amazing how much bigger that ocean gets when your child is about to cross it.)
Molly leaves on her trip today, though she has little knowledge that it actually started almost thirty years ago. Let me explain . . .
My Dad and step-mother are cool. I've said this before. I'll say it again. It's probably rare for children to say this of their parents, but they are cooler than me. They've always been that way, and it's an unbelievable coo for all of us. They do neat stuff. They know interesting people. They go to cool places. You get the picture.
Back in the eighties, they did one of those cool things they do. I didn't think much about it, as they were always busy doing cool things. I had no idea their little endeavor would change my life. They went for a visit in Ireland, which is a must if you are a 'Murphy'. They don't do things like other people, though, so they went with the FRIENDSHIP FORCE, a non-profit organization which helps folks from different parts of the world learn about other cultures through extended visits.
As luck would have it, the woman who was to be their host would have to bow out of the program because of an illness in the family. Pop and Baba (my folks) were then placed with a young family in Dundalk. John and Mary, and their two tiny sons, had agreed to host a Friendship Force trip, as John's mother and aunt had recently returned from their own Boston adventure with the program. (John also has a parent who does weird and cool things like Pop and Baba - she's part of the story, too. Just wait.)
So . . . Pop and Baba spent an amazing, lovely, fun-filled time in DUNDALK, County Louth, Ireland. At the time, they knew it to be a wonderful trip with precious new friends. They couldn't have known then what it all meant.
What it meant was that the Murphys of Atlanta, Georgia, and all of their family and friends would forever be linked with the Quinlivans of Dundalk, Ireland. It meant that the two families became one, our worlds got smaller.
I know there was time in my life when the Quinlivans weren't in my family, but it's hard to imagine. I met them first a year or so after Pop and Baba's trip, when the Quinlivans (with their new baby son) came into Dublin to meet me at a hotel where I was staying on a blitz trip of the British Isles. After that day, we were forever joined.
The Murphys of Atlanta 'friendship forcing' with the Quinlivans of Ireland was the catalyst in one of the most meaningful connections I have ever known. It's hard to explain. We are lucky, to be sure.
The bonding of these two families has meant multiple trips from the state of Georgia to a far away country about the size of the state of Georgia. It has meant multiple trips to Ireland, getting to know our 'cousins' there and hours and hours and hours of laughs. It has meant card games and dice games that couldn't be explained to outsiders, picnics of only sweets in the Irish country side and sledding in Piedmont park together on pieces of linoleum. It has meant praying about the family in the other country and holding each other's hearts in ours when one or the other of us has been struck with sadness.
It has meant trip after trip after trip after trip to American electronic stores for the Qs to purchase the next best gadget and it has meant the moments when dear Maura, John's mother, taught me to make Irish bread late one Irish afternoon in John and Mary's kitchen. It has meant that dear Briege, Mary's sister, is also my sister, and it has meant that I can talk her into some crazy fifteen mile walk from Dingle, in the west of Ireland, to somewhere where the bus stopped running to bring us back when we were finished.
It has meant that there was a big wedding party in Atlanta when Maura met up with and fell in love with her high school sweet heart, Seamus and they married. It has meant that we have all traveled together, spent a week on the South Carolina coast together, cried together, talked quietly on the porch together, danced at weddings together, visited extended family together, seen the sights together, sang together, ridden subways together, boarded trains together, and been stuffed together into cars that could only be compared to the Volkswagen stuffing fad of years ago.
We are family. It's as simple as that. We don't talk much, we are separated by a great big ocean, but we couldn't be closer.
When I visited with the Quinlivans for the first time after an accident in England that killed my mother, John and Mary and all of the rest, were the family I needed. I wasn't sure I would drive again in that part of the world, but John handled that for me. On a family drive into Dublin from their home - with little discussion and a whole lot of love and trust - John pulled over, got out and rounded the car to get me out and ask me to drive. I did. It was okay. See what I mean? Family.
The Quinlivans and Company were here for my wedding, and they brought the 'gifts' to the altar for the Eucharist. And now . . . my daughter will be with them to see their oldest son, Karl, get married. I knew Karl and Marc and Colin when they were tiny babies and she will see them as adults. She will be there to party with the family, meet the newest members and celebrate the love between us all.
She is in for the adventure of a lifetime. I am thankful beyond measure. As I write this post, I am remembering something from a couple of weeks ago. After hearing about this trip, an acquaintance looked at me and asked, "How could you let her go so far away?"
WHAT? WHAT? How could I NOT let her? How could I keep her from knowing a connection that few folks on this swirling blue and green planet will ever know? How could I keep her from the other part of her family?
I will have a lump in my throat when she boards that plane. I will be nervous as I watch the tiny plane on the flight-tracker radar on my computer screen. I will miss her. It will be a long sixteen days.
But I love her too much to allow her to miss what she is flying into - her other family. A girl with grandparents that grant these kinds of wishes is a lucky girl. A girl who learns about a love that spans an ocean is a lucky one. She won't ever be the same after this trip, and I could not be happier.
Trips change us. A weekend get-away or a stroll down a new street or a dream vacation in another land - they all live in us forever. My Molly Murphy is about to have the first installment of a lesson I hope she'll be learning as long as she lives. She is close to feeling things she has never felt, seeing things she has never seen and doing it all with people who couldn't love her more.
God bless parents who are cool and do out of the ordinary things and family from far away and laughter between people who adore one another.
And God bless the FORCE of FRIENDSHIP!
Safe travels, Molly, Pop and Baba.