The west of Ireland has a lot in common with my senior years of both university and high school. I’m at the point in my life now where I’m right on the edge of my final days of college, where I have to dive into the vast sea of adulthood, and have to endure other painful nautical metaphors of “sink or swim,” finding the “plenty of fish in the sea,” and so on.
My senior year at Alemany High School was a time when I planned and dreamt of a life beyond hot, sweaty afternoons spent in the San Fernando Valley to go to a place of higher learning and frat parties. Those periods of my life seem like their own microcosm, with their own language. The only other people who fit into your mini-world are those who sympathize with your confusion. Both years were marked by a culture focused around leaving for the next thing. Everyone is right on the edge, collectively holding their breath before they go to the great unknown. And that’s what I did when I reached the Cliffs of Moher; I held my breath.
Hundreds of tourists pile into buses to trek the narrow roads threaded through the rolling green hills of County Clare. They’re going to something great, so they’ve been told. They don’t know what is so great about some cliffs, yet they have their Canon A-1s ready to snap at the first sheep that looks their way. I didn’t know what to think. Lonely Planet and Frommers just told me to go there, because that’s what you do in Ireland. I had put it off long enough. I dragged my Irish boyfriend, who had put it off even longer, to the west of Ireland. He knew it was something he had to see, but like me, didn’t know what to expect from it.
It’s quite staggering to see what 702 feet looks like above sea level. And to have the entire Atlantic Ocean stretched out in front of you, waiting to be sucked in by your digital camera — well, you almost feel sheepish taking a picture so imposing, and it seems a bit pointless to try and capture the beauty before you. There were only three colors on the horizon: the green of the rolling hills and the mossy cliffs, the blue backdrop of the ocean and the grey of the castle perched on top of one of the cliffs. My eyes needed more time to adjust; my jaw needed to be picked up from the floor.
The landscape was scattered with tourists (and some cows in the background that had seen it all before) and my mind started to wander to scary places. I saw a bunch of guys get as close to the edge of the staggering cliffs as possible. My stomach fell to the ground. I was weirdly identifying with those guys that were just…standing there. Calmly. My mind did the same thing. I couldn’t help but worry about what happens if I don’t find a job after I graduate, if I can’t pay off my loans, how one builds credit, and so on. After staring at the flat Atlantic Ocean for a long time, I was now horrified to realize I was making all sorts of metaphors that Hemingway and Melville had already exhausted with the sea being unforgiving, its own life force. My doubts, worries, and fussing were going to swallow me and suck me under. My boyfriend pulled me back to reality and away from my English-major-metaphor-ridden-mind and reminded me that there was a second leg to our journey: Lisdoonvarna.