Monday, August 6, 2018

"loved and were loved and now we lie . . ."

(adapted from current travel journal)

The surprise gift of a meaningful discovery in Scotland was made possible by the invention of the internet. (thank you Al Gore)

Having last travelled here 28 years ago, at that time, we journeyed looking for my partner’s family's homestead, which we successfully found. 

Little did I know that the MacRaes, that I searched for in every cemetery we happened upon, actually had their own geographic cluster of ancestral footprint and all those years ago, we had driven not far from it.

Googling our family name on my mom’s side showed me that a mere two hour drive from where we were calling home for 12 days could have me on ancestral ground.

We took that drive. 

Aware that we were getting close to the Eilean Donan castle in Dornie, which holds family history of the MacRae clan, we were absolutely unaware of anything else that might be pertinent in the area. 

Crossing a bridge in a bucolic setting— the kind that has called me since I was a wee one and akin to our views in New Zealand that reached deeply into my heart (the same view that moved dearly departed Max and my mom to exclaim,  “this is paradise”)— we pulled over on a lay-by. 

There was a misty light rain falling.

In the distance I could see a cemetery. 


Me loves cemeteries, precious.  (bear with--it was a bit magical to watch The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey, the other night while here up in this ancient Scottish grove above Loch Awe)

As I walked through the old wooden gate marked “Kevin’s Way” I thought of my McCray cousins— one a Kevin be. (forgive if I start writing in lilting Scottish brogue-ish manner)

 Me also loves ruins and there in the cemetery stood the ruins of a church. And above the cemetery, on a hill, was a monument honouring fallen MacRaes. 

A lad of his twenties was geared up and weed-whacking the tidy surrounds as I entered the gate. We chatted realising we were likely distant kin.

Walking up to the first monument and eying the writing on the wall—the name MacRae came jumping out and then followed on almost every tombstone within the ancient cemetery.

We’d happened upon our people.

We did have people. 

And apparently they weren’t just the sheep-stealing scoundrels that I’d seen referred to in some genealogy. 

I read up before we hit the road and was assured that McCray was, in fact, absolutely a derivative of MacRae and that through the years with literacy issues and reports being given to census the name had taken many other forms; our McCray actually being one of the more straightforward derivatives. 

There were some examples of changing MacCrae spelling even within this cemetery.

Seeing my very special uncle, Hugh’s name repeated in the cemetery as well as my young second cousin’s name, Duncan, prolifically sprinkled about touched my heart.

The magic of walking upon this find, the sun making an appearance and peering down on us, will go down as one of the most deeply soul-centred moments of synchronicity of my lifetime.

I felt a deep soul connection upon our arrival to Scotland as we drove around the lochs from Glascow to Lochawe. 

Cellular memory seemed to be saying: this. 

This is why you love the terrain you love.  

Antiquity you’ve always been drawn to. Lonely ancient cottages sprinkled on a country side, rolling hills or coastal front. Babbling brooks. Green and varied terrain. Woods. Nature, full stop. 

Space to breathe; to be.

As we visited the castle, Eilean Donan which is claimed to be the most photographed castle in Scotland and maybe the world, my partner was happily chirping out— this is her family; The MacRaes are her relatives. 
Full of awe and disbelief I looked up at life sized portraits and could see hints of relatives in their faces.

The Scottish lad standing outside, in full regalia, affirmed that he had MacRae in his grandmum’s side which made me swing around for a photo not just of him but with him. 
My only regret is that I didn’t spend more time in the cemetery; had I been on my own I surely would have and that, alone, would make me consider taking this journey, once again, to really sit with the spirit of this area. 

This leg of the journey hasn’t been one for words; but for feeling. And I must say, although this chilly wet summer weather and intense winters isn’t what I would want to live with year round, my heart dreads the leaving. 

So I needed to document this while I was still here. Breathing this air. Looking at the heather we picked from the hill where the MacRae monument to fallen soldiers of the family stood from above the burial grounds: Clachan Duich.
I thought I would take a wee break from Death and the project on this holiday-- but the overriding lesson has been that Death follows us everywhere. 

Having heartfelt visits with my partner's mum who teeters close to the line. Our best friends had to leave Scotland early; one of their dear parents died (RIP Mitch).  

And I then find myself standing amongst the ancestral dead in a wee mystical hollow in Scotland. 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow 
Between the crosses, row on row 
That mark our place; and in the sky 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly 
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago 
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we lie 
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe: 
To you from failing hands we throw 
The torch; be yours to hold it high. 
If ye break faith with us who die 
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 
In Flanders fields.
Maj. John McCrae, 3 May 1915

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