June 2008 Reflection

Every child has drawn cards for their doting parents. We’ve set up our own private Hallmark studio with eight “washable” Crayola markers (in case the inks get on our clothes), a piece of paper from the printer at Dad’s office, and our purest intentions. There have undoubtedly been failures, like Mom’s Birthday 1995 when I made an ill-advised attempt to create a narrative around Garfield the Cat. On the other hand, my parents still keep certain cards they’ve really appreciated, like Father’s Day 2000 when I likened my father to a tried-and-true favorite shirt.

We have all drawn cards. I just never stopped. Over the years, they have become more sophisticated, branching away from cartoon characters or the default flower vase. I now enjoy the process of illustrating an inside joke only the receiver and I can laugh about. Or conjuring up an almost forgotten conversational detail. Better yet, recreating a memorable scene that only a certain few were privy to, e.g. candy bar theft in Dublin or a quasi-hostage situation in Limerick.

So this weekend, I sat down to create the newest batch of thank you cards, this time for the Mitchell year-end trip to Limerick and Dingle. A depiction of the best afternoon tea I think I’ve ever had adorns the cover of the card on its way to Glenstal Abbey. A trifecta of signature instruments symbolizes the O’Suilleabhain family band. As I looked at the growing pile of thank you cards, I began to reflect on how many people have contributed to my Mitchell experience this year.

In the fall, I bought a 50-pack of blank cards and envelopes, never expecting to go through all of them. I haven’t yet, but if I made a card for each and every person deserving of a simple thank you, fifty would not be enough. This year has included a range of memories from the unforgettable Belfast event (my parents gushed about my photograph with Senator Mitchell) to the smaller everyday event. As a final journal entry, I thought I’d describe some of the cards I would make for the people who may not be on the list of obvious thank you recipients.

As anyone who has talked to me about Cork knows, one of my favorite parts of the city is the English Market. For the Korean ladies at Superfruit, I would paint a card with three Rocha pears because no matter what other produce I may get, I always pick up three pears near the checkout counter. For The Chicken Inn, I might include a list of “Greatest Hits” of chicken dishes I’ve miraculously learned how to cook (albeit with the help of my mom’s care package of Chinese sauces). And I’d have to paint a Black Forest cake for the Old Mill Confectionary, which makes the best in town.

For the owners of the pub Sin …, I’d paint a card with fiddles and spoons to mark the many times I’ve gone for a pint and a trad session. Maybe they’ll attach it to the ceiling to join the other various mementos ranging from vintage Cork Film Festival Posters to California postcards. For Mr. and Mrs. Song at the Jia Jia Market, a simple bowl of rice to represent the many creature comforts I’ve bought from their store will express my gratitude to them. I’d have to paint a depiction of Ireland’s maligned Dustin the Turkey for tennis partner-turned-Eurovision fan Thomas. For my friends at Nasc, the immigrant support center, I’d paint a likeliness of Michael, the Burmese Santa Claus at our Christmas Party.

I’d have a field day coming up with ideas for my UCC colleagues. A cup of mulled wine from the potluck Mary Rose hosted for my class. A hurley and sliotar for Catherine, who tried in vain to get me to take up the sport (and after finally seeing a match this weekend, I’ve reconsidered her seemingly altruistic motives). And for Dave, a surfboard to thank him for taking this California boy for his first surfing lesson in Tralee Bay.

And yet, I still need to highlight a few obvious thank yous. Of course, there are my fellow Mitchell Scholars, for whom I’ve been brainstorming cards since our orientation way back in September. And I cannot say thank you enough to Trina, Mary Lou, and Paul Hayes for everything. But those card ideas will stay a secret for now.

The way I see it, a card is not so much a way to merely recognize the person I’m giving it to; it’s a way to recognize the distinct relationship we have together. Maybe that relationship only involves a single memory or a single object, but that does not make it any less significant.

Pablo Picasso once said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Henri Matisse echoed the statement, yearning for the freshness with which children see the world. And so the cards remain. For me, Ireland and this year have meant a chance to see the world anew. To meet new people and to meet a new self. To cast aside old shoulder chips and to interact with others on a purely human level. While I may not have caught the names of all those who have mattered to me this year, I will take the tell-tale images – the spoons, scones, and surfboards – with me to the next stage.

During my exit interview, Mary Lou asked me if I had set and met any goals for this year. I said I had not succeeded in starting and completing a creative project. I think I answered too quickly. Sure, that screenplay has not written itself, but I look at these cards and the ones I have yet to make. They symbolize for me memories created, which all contribute to the new self I am excited to take back to the States. And for this, especially to all the supporters of the US-Ireland Alliance, I say thank you.

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