June 2007 Reflection

On our last adventure together, the Mitchells traveled far and wide – pondering the passage tombs of Newgrange, hiking among the hill forts of Mount Brandon, witnessing the serene beauty of Glenstal Abbey and the extraordinary music of Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. All of this, and countless other unforgettable experiences, would not have been possible without those who so generously support the US-Ireland Alliance and the Mitchell Scholarship. And of course – it probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – Trina Vargo and Mary Lou Hartman make all of this happen. It is their dedication and vision that turn these ideas into reality – and I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of that exciting reality this year.

My year has taken some exciting turns recently. I just completed a week-long mediation training with the group Mediation Northern Ireland. I was able to compare their methods to other mediation models I have used and draw some valuable teachings from their techniques – techniques which have been tested all over the world as well as in their own backyard. Also quite recently, I was accepted to present a paper on music-based civil society peacebuilding at the Inaugural International Education for Peace (EFP) conference. I will travel to Vancouver in November to present at the conference, participate in some of the workshops, and hear all of the speakers and presenters.

The radio documentary fellow Mitchell Scholar Daniel Preysman got me involved in turned out to be a fascinating experience. I did some interviews along the way, but the bulk of my role was designing sound for the program. For me, weaving in music throughout the piece was especially enjoyable, but the whole experience – traveling out to interview folks, working with Daniel in the studio, and then staying up until 4:00 am the night before the deadline – was full of learning and energy and memorable moments.

At the end of March, the Irish School of Ecumenics (ISE) held its Spring School. The Belfast folks from the Reconciliation Studies program in Belfast came to Dublin and we had lots of inspiring speakers, challenging discussions, and in general it was a good opportunity for students from the Ecumenics, Peace Studies, and Reconciliation Studies programs to visit with each other and reflect on our ISE experiences.

Following up on our earlier visit to Belfast, and a particularly powerful dialogue session facilitated by Healing Through Remembering (HTR), the Spring School hosted two members of HTR, a cross-community Belfast-based organization dealing with Northern Ireland’s complex and troubled past. It was fascinating to learn more about the work HTR is doing. Eliciting participation from former combatants, victims, ex-prisoners, security and intelligence forces, NGOs, and academics, the HTR subgroup on truth recovery and acknowledgement is looking at several options for sustained reconciliation through truth recovery efforts.

Lots of traveling. I traveled to the Aran Islands, where thunderous waves pounded cliffs that looked like the edge of the world. For hours I just stared out at the sea, trying to fathom the magnitude of it all. Some students from the Peace Studies program visited The Hague to observe the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We also visited Amsterdam, where I saw the Anne Frank house and the Van Gogh museum and wandered among the canals marveling at the creativity, friendliness, and diversity of the city (60% of primary school students in Amsterdam come from non-Dutch backgrounds!). When my mom and sister visited, we made day trips to Dun Laoghaire, Howth, and Dalkey. And I will spend most of the month of June in Israel visiting family, swimming in the Mediterranean, and working on my dissertation.

The rest of the summer will consist of that as well (the dissertation, not the Mediterranean), along with working at Cornucopia, which is not only the best vegetarian restaurant in Dublin but also a vibrant and cozy gathering space. It works well for me to plunge into the fast-paced, lively atmosphere there several times a week since I spend so much time at the computer.

The other distraction I have is music. A friend and I have formed a duo of sorts, playing Irish traditional music, jazz, flamenco, and interesting combinations of the three. John plays fiddle; I play guitar. The other night we met to practice and, realizing that it would be inconsiderate to make music while people were studying for exams, we found a bench outside. Minutes later, a crowd had gathered to dance. Many stopped to listen and more than a few asked where was our hat. My hat’s on my head, I thought, and I checked. It was indeed on my head. Your money hat, they said, for euros! So now we’re buskers. It was a happy accident and John and I have a lot of fun with it.

As I begin to think about my departure from this island, the inevitable plan-making is set in motion. I’m not sure exactly what next year has in store for me, but as I reflect on all that this year has brought, all that it has meant, all that I’ll take with me, I am reminded of the words my friend imparted to me when I left the US for Ireland:

“In one sense we are always traveling, and traveling as if we did not know where we are going. In another sense, we have arrived.”
-Thomas Merton

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