In light of the recent refugee crisis, many of us have had the migrant’s pursuit of happiness and a better life on our minds. But those of us privileged enough to choose emigration, rather than having it forced on us, often dabble in the dreamer’s art of speculating about a rosy future in greener pastures where all of our “other life” fantasies come true. But, sadly, reality is often far different from those speculations. And in those moments we indulge the fantasy at our own peril.
Compared to the suffering and urgency of refugees, my wife and I and most of our migrant friends are remarkably blessed. And, as we all do, we like to think we are the most reasonable and pragmatic people around. But, on a recent trip to Kilkenny something happened to us that bears considering.
We’d heard good things about Kilkenny, and after about two hours in town we were getting a good, nay, great vibe about the place. By dinner that night we were both having similar thoughts, which, after a couple glasses of wine, we began to share. What if….?
“You know, it’s cheap here. It’s much cheaper than Dublin. We could buy a place and buy a car for commuting to Dublin. We could buy that little farm I’ve always wanted. Hell, for what we’d save, we could buy a cheap farm here and a dump/crash pad in Dublin so we wouldn’t have to go back and forth. We could go early in the week, or just before a midweek meeting, and stay over. And we’d AirBnB it between visits. And we’d finally have time for all our hobbies. And our hair would be shinier and more manageable.”
Ahh, the bullshit flowed that night, I can tell you.
That fantasy titillated us the entire trip. And it wasn’t until the train home, when Kalpana began to Google “Kilkenny to Dublin commute”, that phrases like, “excruciatingly bad”, “more trouble than it’s worth”, and “never again” wafted into the conversation like something from the next stall.
Then, this past weekend, at dinner with other immigrant friends who’ve been here longer than us, we discovered that the “two glasses of wine Kilkenny fantasy” is a common malady among immigrants in Ireland. They’d been to Kilkenny, and it had run much the same course.
I think that, among immigrants, who often suffer pangs of uncertainty for decades, wanting to find that one “magic place” that solves all our problems is a fairly natural reflex.
After four years, I still regularly ask myself questions such as:
“Do I want to stay?”
“Do I want/need to go back to the United States?”
“If I leave Ireland where would I go?”
“What kind of person am I (Dubliner, a Cork man, a Kilkenny-ite, a Berliner, Parisian, etc.)?
The truth is that now I’m a “migrant”, a member of that nebulous tribe of world citizens caught somewhere between home and “there”.
Until some time far in the dark and murky future, deep in my dotage, when I no longer suffer identity issues like these, I think the Kilkennys of this world will always tempt me. But I try to remind myself that no one place is perfect. To paraphrase one of my favorite philosophers (Gus from Lonesome Dove), “Life there is still just life”. And I embrace the words of a very wise friend and strive to, “want what I already have”.
That’s hard for all of us. But for migrants, with so much at stake, and often a persistent sense of groundlessness, I think it’s particularly difficult. But it’s also particularly important. It may be the key to happiness (and shiny, tangle-free hair).
Dublin, October 2015
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
Water Rights (and infrastructure)
Finding the “Right” City For You