“Basically you’ve run away.”  The words slipped out, loosened by the Burns Night whisky; I called it Talisker-tongue.  I immediately feared that branding her a runaway may not have been the most sensitive thing to say, but S. didn’t seem to mind.  On the contrary, she giggled delightedly.  “Yes, I suppose you could say that, and I might never go back!”  Her eyes danced when she told me about the rock choir, the evening classes, the yoga drop-in, and the best thing of all – “nobody knows me.”  She was clearly delighted to be a stranger in a strange land.  “For the first time in fifty years I have no back-story, no one’s relying on me, I’ve no expectations to live up to.  I am anonymous and I love it.”  Her sister, with whom she is staying for a little while, chipped in, “And my house has never been in better order, kitchen blinds I tell you!”  S.’s kids had flown the nest, her husband had fallen out of the nest somewhere along the way, and, with the opportunity to take a sabbatical from work, she found herself responsibility-free for the first time in her adult life.  One hop across the Irish Sea, leaving with Erin’s green valleys in her wake, S. was open to whatever came her way.  With a light in her eye and a thankful sigh she looked and sounded like a woman who had slipped the noose.  I thought of the Ogden Nash rhyme: “Why did the Lord give us agility,If not to evade responsibility?”

Not all of us can run away so completely (though don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it), and there are certain responsibilities we must (must we?) live up to, but there are steps we can take to bring us back to ourselves by pursuing the role of part-time runaway.  Discipline weighs heavily in our lives: self-improvement, making ourselves ‘better’, adding more responsibility each year.  We apply so much pressure on ourselves to be thinner, fitter, smarter, tidier, but I wonder if there isn’t some way of striving to be better without being so hard on oneself?  Instead of this gung-ho determination to be better, why not retreat, run away, drop-out every so often?

I ran away in July 1996.  I was on a three-month placement in a tech-firm in Dublin’s Sandyford Industrial Estate; the final element of a Masters Degree I didn’t complete.  By lunchtime of day three I cracked.  I called C. and told him I was running away.  He turned out to be an excellent accomplice, taking me to Heuston station, depositing me onto the Galway train and calling his ex-wife to collect me at the other end.  I remember the flood of relief as I walked around Salthill on that first evening: free, unshackled, and giddy with recklessness.  I stopped a young man to ask where I might buy a pint of milk, and he suggested we take a walk up to the Claddagh where we sat by the mouth of the Corrib, chatting and counting swans.  Tomorrow was time enough for milk.

Run away – I urge you – even if it’s to a café for an hour, or the darkness of the cinema for the afternoon, or a drive alone out along the coast for the day.  Go mad and book in for a night to a sleepy hotel, mid-week in February.  You could run away for a day, like my friend who wrote to tell me about her home retreat this weekend, a simple Saturday when she ate, walked, wrote, rested and dropped all responsibility. “What I observed is that the day felt longer than usual…. the day had a more contemplative feel.”

The inspirational American poet, Mary Oliver, died earlier this month. I think she would have fully approved of S. running away.  We should all do it at least once!

 The Journey, by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice–

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.

2 thoughts on “Runaway

  1. Oh I ran away today and had a great time. Decided against all sense to drive to Antrim to buy T shirts I fancied. Could have waited til going that way. But, no, sunny day, playing Van Morrison and Norah Jones CD’s very loudly. Music to my ears, literally.


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