Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Puffin Outside My Window

September 18, 2011

From about the third day in Corrymeela, I knew that one of the last blogs I wrote about my experiences here would be called The Puffin Outside My Window.

I can’t remember – it was either my second or third morning. I awoke very early, because I was still adjusting to the time difference between Halifax and Northern Ireland.  Plus, the sun was rising in those days at about 4 am. So I awoke, somewhat groggy, raised the window blind, and found myself staring at a puffin hopping around on the grass outside my window. Now, I’ve never seen a real live puffin. But I just knew that’s what it was. I watched it for a good several minutes before it hopped out of sight. Of course, I did not have the presence of mind to grab my camera and take a picture – I was just too fascinated watching it hop around, seemingly just for my amusement.

Later that day, I cautiously asked one of the other volunteers who had been here awhile – “Is it possible that I saw a puffin outside my window this morning?” “Probably not,” I was told, “Puffins usually don’t make their way over here from Rathlin.” Puffins are one of the main attractions on Rathlin Island, just off the coast of Ballycastle, from late spring until early August. There are many things to do and see on the island, but puffin watching is one of the biggies.

So, of course, I then began to wonder whether I had really seen a puffin outside my window. Maybe it was extreme jet lag, and I was just hallucinating. I found myself watching each morning for my little friend, but to no avail. A week later, I got up enough nerve to ask someone else. “Is it possible that I saw a puffin outside my window one morning?”  “Sure” I was told, “entirely possible.” That gave me courage to actually talk about it to others, but with more conviction. “I’m pretty sure I saw a puffin outside my window the other morning” I said. Some believed, some didn’t.

But the story took on a life of its own. One day I thoughtfully compared it to the Holy Spirit. Maybe I was being sent a message of some sort ... but what? Keep watch? All will be well? Now you see it, now you don’t? Feed the puffins? Folks began to talk more about puffins, and in particular, the now mythical puffin outside my window. One of the summer volunteers reported after a trip to Rathlin that there was much talk about the new trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Puffin.

One day I looked out my window and found Teri (who in one of our discussions had very tactfully suggested that maybe it was an oyster catcher that I had seen ...) picking flowers. I opened my window and said “Excuse me, are you the puffin outside my window?” “Yes,” she said emphatically, “I AM the puffin outside your window!” (ps I KNOW it wasn’t an oyster catcher ... it didn’t have a long beak!!)

And of course, the puffin never returned. Or at least, it hasn’t yet. There are only two mornings left, and it truly would be a miracle if it did return, because all the puffins left Rathlin Island several weeks ago. So, I’m left to wonder whether there really was a puffin outside my window that morning. All I have are my fading memories of what I saw.

Somewhere in my puffin thoughts I began to understand that this very well might be a metaphor for my Corrymeela experience when I get home. Was it real? Did it really happen? The farther away I get from it, the more I expect it will seem unreal, fleeting, a brief moment in time.

Fortunately, unlike my puffin episode, I have taken many pictures to help me remember. And I have this blog – which I entered into three months ago with great fear and trepidation and, thanks to your words of encouragement, have been able to keep up. And I also have a journal with more personal reflections. And, the travel book that Tammy at St. Andrew’s gave me is chock full of notes from conversations, worship and reflection times, ideas, songs, games ... people, trips, money spent ... you name it, I’ve written it down!

But I suspect even with all this, after this Wednesday, it will all begin to fade slightly, to feel a bit unreal to me. Was I really here? Did it all really happen?
I also suspect that I will be processing this experience for many months to come. It is my deep hope that I will return to Corrymeela someday, either as a volunteer, or with a group that wants to explore the Corrymeela Community and how it has contributed to peace and reconciliation in the world. Until then, I’m dependent on my memories, my writing, my pictures.

I’m not sure if I’ll write another blog before I get home. My computer battery is dying a slow death, (another metaphor???), and I’m not sure what will happen when it finally goes. I’m hoping I get home before it completely dies. Folks are starting to ask me “What have you learned?” “What are the highlights?” I am starting to answer those questions, mostly in my journal, but it may take some time.

Tomorrow night it will be my turn to experience a goodbye party – something very low key I hope. Tuesday I take the Antrim Coaster one more time to Belfast, and fly out Wednesday morning. This coming weekend we fly to Toronto for my mother’s memorial service next Monday. Prayers for safe travel, strength and comfort are most welcome.

And if you see the puffin outside my window, say hello for me. 


  1. Martha- its been such a joy to journey with you through your blog posts. I know I haven't written messages each time, but I have been here reading and enjoying all your wisdom, thoughts, and experiences. I know that through this experience much as been learned, the spirit has moved, and you will come home with new energy and insight. Thank you for opening yourself up, and for the willingness to write. From St. Catharines ON, Its been greatly appreciated :) My peace and love is sent to you as this experience comes to and end, but new journey's embark. Safe travels and many blessings


  2. Martha:
    I am so glad I checked tonight to see if there was another blog. Image so appreciated them and I have read every one. Well, I think you probably saw a Puffin. No one can mistake a Puffin for any other bird. And birds of the ocean can get blown far afield. Maybe it came to bring you all those thoughts you have shared with us in this blog. My thoughts and prayers are with you for a safe return - with a bit of computer battery left! We are looking forward to welcoming you back to St. Andrew's and sharing more of your your experiences. Peace!