In Ireland, people don’t say ‘How are you,’ they ask, ‘What’s your story?’

I’m writing this blog while sitting at O’Hare after an eight-hour flight from Dublin. I, along with nineteen fellow students, two professors, and one advisor, left for a literary study experience on the 23rd of May. Nearly three weeks later, we’re back in the states with a whole lot of sensory overload, electronic devices drained of battery, and suitcases full of dirty laundry.

I never could have imagined this experience for myself.  After my husband encouraged me to return to college after a thirty-two-year gap, I slogged through countless hours of study time, papers, and projects, only to have this opportunity arise. I said no—several times—but life (and my husband), kept saying yes.

Serendipity: Luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.

One of these serendipitous moments happened my first week in Dublin. After my husband arrived, I stepped in as tour guide –– retracing steps from earlier in the week ––  stops at Trinity College, Merrion Square, and Sweny’s Joycean Pharmacy (featured in James Joyce’s Ulysses). Sweny’s is a fascinating, if not magical, spot, preserved much as it was in Joyce’s day, with a vast selection of second-hand books and glass cases of original apothecary bottles as well as the lemon-scented soap which made the shop famous.

It was here we met PJ Murphy, a bit of a leprechaun and local legend who regaled us with tales of Joyce, fairies, and the mythical Land of Forever Young. After inviting us to return for a reading, we bumped into PJ later that afternoon in the median between Sweny’s and Kennedy’s Pub (formerly Conway’s), also mentioned in one of Joyce’s novels. PJ apologized, saying he had misspoken about the day of the reading but asked instead if we might join him at Kennedy’s. “I am meeting Bruce Springsteen’s photographer for a pint.”

Were we sleep deprived or was this some kind of hoax? If you met PJ, you would believe he was capable of this kind of magic. Inside Kennedy’s, we did indeed meet Swedish photographer Jan Lundahl and his agent Torvald Brannstrom who were in town to photograph Springsteen’s performance at Croke Park. Once we started talking, it was as if we were lifelong friends. PJ and the pub’s owner, Brian Donohue, kept inviting new members into this group so by the end of the evening, we knew pretty much everyone in the pub.

The following day, we returned to Kennedy’s and were surprised to find Jan and Torvald there. Over a steaming plate of Beef & Guinness Pie, we were excitedly chatting about the evening’s concert when Jan grabbed his camera and captured the photo (above).

So there you have it. That is my story.

[ Image by Jan M Lundahl ]

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