It took nine months, but I’ve finally learned my lesson. When you run on the promenade in Galway, you have to kick the wall.

Our friend Avril, who gets up early every morning and walks the prom, has told me several times that ‘its just what you do’. The directive didn’t quite sink in for me until today, however, when I saw a girl who couldn’t have been older than five give it a big strong boot as she walked aimlessly by.

The ‘wall’ marks the two mile point from where the River Corrib lets out into Galway Bay. Standing about five feet and made of the gray stones that permeate the Connemara countryside, it divides the bayside promenade from a local golf course.

‘Kicking the wall’ is one of those small things that you can only learn by getting to know a place. Its not in the travel book or on the city council website. It’s a piece of local knowledge – the kind that’s only privy to folks that make this place home.

As transients for the better part of three years, Lauren and I have learned through experience how hard it can be to tap into the local knowledge of a place when you’re ‘not from around here’. But, I think, we’ve also learned a bit about its beauty. There is something special and worthwhile about having some things that are shared locally – amongst ‘us’. Its what bonds neighborhoods and cultures and sustains traditions. Its what makes places communities and not just amalgamations of atomized individuals.

When you float with the wind, perhaps you ought to lose a little sway.

Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary General, once allegedly ignored advice that he should wear a warm hat while on a trip to Minnesota in winter. “Never think you know more than the natives”, he apparently lamented.

In two weeks Lauren and I leave Ireland to return, first, to Minnesota. I can’t help but wonder what local knowledge about my home – from the U.S. as a whole down to my old neighborhoods – will now be invisible to me. What have people learned while I’ve been gone? Or, rather, what have I forgotten?

I guess, as my anonymous little kicking friend reminded me today, the only way to find out is to listen and to watch…to assume that everyone around you has something to teach.

(And, maybe its about time for me to stick around somewhere too…)

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