Sarah Anne Hayes

claddagh rings & open hearts

RelationshipsSarah Anne HayesComment

My heritage is pretty varied. My mom's family came to the United States in 1642, so over the last 375ish years, people from a lot of different countries got pulled into the mix.

I visited Ireland — the land of some of my ancestors — for the first time in 2007. I had just graduated high school and, instead of going to college right away, went gallivanting off on a three-month singing tour that took me all over the United States, parts of Canada, and the entirety of the United Kingdom.

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It's doubtful that my wanderlust will ever be fully satiated and I will forever be exploring new cities and and states and countries, but there is something special about visiting the place where your ancestors once lived, before the country of your birth was even a country.

I can still see the gorgeous rolling hills, beautiful landscapes, fascinating architecture, rich history, and breathtaking views off the coast of the beautiful country. In so many ways, Ireland took my breath away.

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While in Ireland, I learned about the Claddagh — a traditional Irish symbol representing love, loyalty, and friendship. There is some confusion about who created the original design, but Claddagh rings have been produced in Galway since the 1700s and were used locally as engagement and wedding rings. However, it was not until the 1800s that Galway jewelers began to market them beyond the local area.

Though Claddagh rings are occasionally given as a form of friendship, most often they are passed down through generations and still worn as engagement and wedding rings. And like a traditional engagement or wedding ring, the positioning of the Claddagh is important.

If worn on the right hand with the point of the heart facing outward, it indicates the wearer is single and looking for love. If worn on the right hand with the point of the heart facing inward, it indicates the wearer is in a relationship. Similarly, if worn on the left hand with the point of the heart facing outward, it indicates the wearer is engaged and married if pointed inward.

A little over four years after I visited Ireland, I got a Claddagh ring of my own — a simple sterling silver one I have worn every day for the last five years. For nearly all of those five years, the ring has remained on my right hand, facing outward.

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I've spent the vast majority of my life single, and while I vacillate back and forth (sometimes on a daily basis) between being perfectly content to continue remaining single and woefully lamenting my singleness in a melodramatic fashion, the fact of the matter is it would be my preference to no longer be single sooner rather than later. It's something I don't really have control over, but a request I bring before the Lord in prayer often, nonetheless.

And every day, whether I am content and not so content in my singleness, my Claddagh sits on my right hand, heart facing outward.

It might seem weird to wear a physical reminder of your relationship status when it's the opposite of what you want it to be. When my last relationship ended almost five years ago, when I had to put the ring on facing outward instead of inward, I briefly considered not even putting it on. It's possible there were even a few days I did just that.

But more than a reminder of my singleness, the ring I put on my finger each day is a reminder, even in my single, sometimes bitter and frustrated and cynical state, to keep my heart open. To remember that the Lord works and moves in mighty and mysterious ways. To remind myself that when I close my heart to hope in the possibility of something like a future marriage, I often unintentionally close my heart to hope in so many other good and wonderful things.

As singles, especially in the Church, we often rebel against anything and everything that reminds us of our single state. It's culturally acceptable to rail against the establishment, proclaim love and romance dead, and just plain give up. It's hip to be cynical and acceptable to be angry. We let sermons on marriage make us feel isolated, boycott holidays that celebrate love, and perhaps even consider declining wedding invitations because we can't stomach the thought of going to another one alone.

It's easy to let this happen — to become cynical, bitter, and jaded. It's easy to swear off love, label dating as a waste of time, and determine to live out the remainder of our days in a cabin in the woods or on a deserted island. I've certainly been guilty of this attitude more than once in my lifetime.

And yet, what is it they say about like attracting like? Now, I'm not one to subscribe to all those philosophies that what you put out into the world is what comes to you or the universe feels your intentions or anything like that, but I do know this — you miss what you aren't looking for. And not just in the area of romance.

Our feelings and attitudes about life aren't isolated. One part affects the whole. When you allow bitterness and cynicism to grow in your heart about something like love, it often spreads, without you knowing it, to other areas of your life. You could miss out on opportunities and friendships and incredible, life-changing experiences if you allow the attitude that it's just not worth the effort to permeate into even the smallest area of your life.

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Anne Shirley is my favorite character in all of literature. She is melodramatic and temperamental, but with a zest for life and love and adventure larger than anyone else you'll likely ever meet. She's experienced hardship and pain in her life, but she always has a secret delight. She always holds onto the belief that the world is full of beauty that's worth finding, that every day is a new start, and that kindred spirits are always out there.

That's how I believe we are meant to live — with an unbridled expectation that the world is full of beauty and wonder and delight.

Imagine how much more love and adventure and who knows what else we get the chance to see when our eyes and hearts are open to it, when we choose to put the past behind us and trust and believe that our God is good, that He gives good gifts to His children, and He is working and moving in ways we might never see or know.

Yes, life is hard and scary sometimes. No, relationships don't always work out. Yes, sometimes people are absolute jerks. No, there aren't any guarantees when it comes to life or love. 

But...life is also beautiful and wild and wonderful. Relationships, romantic or not, can one of the best things to ever happen to you. People are imperfect, but there's nothing like finding a kindred spirit. There aren't guarantees when it comes to life or love, but why should you let that stop you from trying and wishing and hoping?

One day, I hope to have a daughter. And one day, when she is older, I will take the ring I now wear on my finger and give it to her in the hopes that it will remind her, each and every day, to keep her heart open — to life, to adventure, to love, to whatever this world holds for her.