November 2004 Reflection

It is about 5:30 pm on November 1 an I am sitting in the Limerick library trying to come up with what to write about for this journal so I can get it in this evening. An email comes in from Dell. Most likely to tell me to get in gear and get my entry to him. Fw: Mitchell Scholars the title reads. I open it: “Zach I am forwarding an email from Limerick Administration that I find rather baffling” writes Dell.

“I would be grateful for clarification as regards the position of Zachery Keplinger-Coelius whom we were expecting to enroll here at UL on the MA International Studies this Autumn as one of two George Mitchell Scholars. I understand he has not enrolled but is still listed on the UL-Ireland Alliance Web Site as expected to graduate MA International Studies Class of 2005.”

I have been here for almost six weeks going to class and living in one of their very nice apartments. Hmm. I guess I will have to check into it tomorrow.

It does get me thinking. What if there really has been a horrible mix-up and I have to go home? The jolt of a possible actuality to that idea lends a new sense of perspective to the hypothetical scenarios that have been racing through my head much of my time here. I have struggled with whether I should write what I really feel in this entry and I have decided that if I really believe that honesty is the best policy for effective communication then I am going to have to tell the truth. And the truth is that life in Limerick has not been the idyllic lolling in green pastures with newfound friends and a pint of Guinness in my hand that many of the other Mitchells gush about. It has been one of the most challenging times of my life. I have come face to face with very real questions about why I do the things I do and what I want to do with my time. And in so doing it has hurt, hurt a lot.

The University of Limerick itself is great, the people are extremely nice, welcoming and interesting. The classes are well run, the campus has wonderful expansive green lawns and the river Shannon running through it (I can sit on my balcony with a beer and just watch it roll by). Ireland is also great. I just spent the weekend sailing in a team-racing regatta in Schull, a small seaside village in the southwest. It was one of the coolest regatta’s I have every sailed in. Surrounded by rolling hills covered with sheep, the horns and grinding winches of working fishing boats, and the yelling of our competition, my team and I sailed to a second place finish against twenty four teams from all over Ireland. It was awesome. And most of all, the Mitchell Program is amazing. The collection of profoundly different and amazing people that have been brought together in one place is unlike anything I have every experienced. The conversations I have had with the other Mitchell scholars have been nothing less then the most remarkable examples of interpersonal discourse I have ever experienced.

Yet, one of the things that my time here has taught me is that it is just not that easy. Even as I have shouted in pure joy as we crossed the finish line in first and second to advance to the finals, I have still ached. Even as I walk across the Shannon back to my apartment and marvel at the beauty of Ireland, there are still questions. Even as I slump in my seat on the way back from another great weekend in Dublin, I still wonder; what am I doing here?

As someone who as always lived my life with intentionality, I am without a clear direction right now. Coming here, like all of the fellowship programs of its ilk, removes from the recipient a degree of control of their direction. In exchange for the wondrous treasures that flow so freely to us from the program, we find ourselves in limbo, shoved off the course that many of us have been manically driving ourselves down for so long. Often termed a break or a chance to stop and smell the roses, this displacement has for me resembled the painful derailing of a speeding train. Suddenly the chaos of a swirling life that I reveled in was replaced with a slow walk through a misting rain. The moments have lost their urgency, the forces their potency, the day its possibility for disaster. As I sit here the most important election of my life is only a few hours away and I find myself sitting on the sidelines. And as anyone who has sat the pine knows, there is nothing worse then watching the others play. A warning to those of you who may be thinking of coming here one day: be sure you are going to be able to live with walking away from that which has made your life what it is.

Yet, as my time here has been rough, it is beginning to give me something very special. As I struggle without the external elements that I have always seen as giving meaning to my life, the deprivation has allowed me to start to hone in on what it important and what is superfluous. In the crucible of my internal conflagration those things with meaning and value survive, and the superficial perishes. My time here is granting me a new perspective that I will value forever. The more time I spend here the more I find my direction and purpose becoming increasingly defined and strengthened. My moment off the field will revitalize my time on it. I can see myself looking back on this year with reverence for opportunity it has given me to reassess and redirect myself.

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