I’ve always had a hard time saying goodbye. Ask my family members and friends, I’m either too emotional or not nearly emotional enough, too calm or far too worked up. Yet, when I departed the place that had been my home for nearly a month, the goodbye came easily. There is just something about Irish culture in which they seem almost careless or at least unfrightened when it comes to leaving.
One of the first stories I told my family when I returned home Friday night was about the traditional Aran Sweaters and their patterns. The Aran Islands are a series of small islands off the coast of Ireland near Galway in the Atlantic Ocean. Though extremely remote and orthodox still to this day, the Aran Islands have become famous for their warm wool sweaters that are commonplace in shops on the rest of the island. However, back in the early days, the lives of the fisherman and their sweaters were closely intertwined as each family had a specific pattern that was passed down from generation to generation, similar to a Scottish kilt. Yes, the patterns themselves were significant and important to each family, but there was a more deliberate reason for the detailed-stitching: dead fisherman were more able to be recognized and returned home if they were wearing their pattern.
When I first heard this story, I was slightly morified as I imagined mothers, wives, and daughters sat waiting for weeks until their dead husbands, sons, and fathers were returned nameless, but recognizable due to a pattern alone. However, the more I thought about it, I realized how ingenius and interesting of a tradition this actually was. In addition, it offers a glimpse into how the Irish feel about goodbyes, departures, and death. Rather than dwelling on the sadness or relishing in their last few moments with loved ones, the Irish are pragmatic and realistic. They’ve have had their fair share of hard times from Famine to Civil War and emigration, but I think its quite beautiful that they understand that what happens in life is out of their hands most of the time. Thus, its not worth the stress and worry, which really resonates with me, the worry-wart of the family.
The Irish goodbye — leaving social gatherings without actually saying goodbye — is actually quite accurate, but it shouldn’t have the negative connotation we often associate with it. Rather, it represents a society that places focus on the experience and the journey, as well as understands the complexities of the world that we live in. I think we all stand to learn a little from the Irish, especially when it comes to goodbyes.