Monday, October 8, 2012

anam cara

On September 1st of this year, my uncle married a really wonderful woman. Her name is Linda. Linda is so incredibly sweet and I adore her. She has the kindest heart, but she has had a lot of heartbreak in her life as well. In 2007, Linda lost her son, Jason. He was only 20 years old.

My uncle and Linda had a beautiful wedding. We celebrated with a handful of people in their home. It was simple and heartfelt and perfect. After the ceremony, we had cupcakes and chatted and the kids ran around playing. Linda loves Audrey and we got talking about being a mom. She told me how she likes to talk about Jason because it keeps him alive in her heart. She also told me about the tattoo she has in memory of him, that includes the phrase anam cara. When she explained anam cara to me, I started to cry. This is exactly how I feel about Audrey. She is my anam cara.

For their honeymoon, my uncle and Linda spent two weeks in Scotland! (Completely jealous over here, by the way!) They must have stopped by today while we were at the grocery store because there were gifts here waiting for us when we got home. Waiting for me was Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O'Donohue and the sweetest handwritten note from Linda.

I immediately opened it up and started reading. I'm going to share a few passages from the book now to explain anam cara. As it did when Linda first explained it to me, the book made me cry and perfectly described what I feel Audrey is to me, though I had never thought of it that way myself.
In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam cara. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara is the word for friend. So anam cara in the Celtic world was the "soul friend." In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam cara.
O'Donohue continues,
In everyone's life, there is great need for an anam cara. In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. Understanding nourishes belonging. When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person's soul. 
A little later, he states,
In Celtic tradition, the anam cara was not merely a metaphor or ideal. It was a soul-bond that existed as a recognized and admired social construct. It altered the meaning of identity and perception. When your affection is kindled, the world of your intellect takes on a new tenderness and compassion. The anam cara brings epistemological integration and healing. You look and see and understand gradually refines your sensibilities and transforms your way of being in the world.
I find it overwhelming how deeply this spoke to me. In our culture, the idea of a "soul mate" almost always refers to a spouse and a romantic love. I love that anam cara refers to a connection of understanding and guidance, and of someone who changes the way we see the world.

I don't think all mothers find their anam cara in their children. Some people may find their anam cara in a spouse or friend, in a teacher, parent or clergy member. Unfortunately, and as O'Donohue suggests, most people may not realize who their anam cara is until it is too late. This is the case for Linda. She didn't truly acknowledge Jason as her anam cara until after he passed. But the idea of anam cara brings her great comfort when she thinks of him now.

Linda may not be my anam cara, but I feel a deep connection to her because we both recognize our children as our own anam cara. I am incredibly grateful to her for sharing with me this beautiful Celtic "understanding of love and friendship."

I may not be Audrey's anam cara, that will be for her to determine and discover, but she is certainly mine. In her short time here with me, she has brought me healing and an understanding of myself. She has opened my eyes to a completely new way of viewing the world. Every single day, she teaches me and guides me. She has transformed who I am. And with her, I feel more myself than with anyone else.

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