The past three months seem to have flown by. I am still enjoying my time here in Ireland, and I look forward to the final months of my adventure here. Since my last journal entry, I had a birthday, explored Belfast, met with Senator George Mitchell in Dublin, and reconnected with Kansas City in an unconventional way.
On February 17, 2009, I turned 25 years old. In order to celebrate the occasion, Kacey and I decided to play the part of tourist here in Belfast. We started our day with a walk up Sandy Row, where we noticed that the curbs and other signs were painted red, white and blue in reference to the Union Jack, and there were many large murals illustrating the Loyalist sentiments of this area. The stroll was a fascinating look at the on-going tensions of this city in the North. We continued on to what might be called New Belfast, the area along Queen’s Quay. Here we took in lovely views of the giant yellow cranes that define Belfast’s harbor named Samson and Goliath. It was dusk, and the view over the harbor was simply breathtaking. From here, we continued on our walk along the Newtownards Rd. into East Belfast. This area is also a largely Loyalist area of town and hosts numerous other Unionist murals. Eventually, we made our way down a few miles along the Newtownards Rd. to the C.S. Lewis Memorial, which was our ultimate destination for the day. I spent some time studying C.S. Lewis at Oxford University, and I greatly enjoy his writings. Lewis was born and spent much of his childhood in East Belfast, and this memorial was a tribute to the man and his body of work. The memorial is a statue of a character from Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia, peering into the famous wardrobe that opens the door to his famous magical world. It was a fitting tribute to the local boy whose imagination captured the hearts and minds of so many others. Although the day was filled with diverse and exciting experiences, indeed the highlight of the day was the birthday cake that Kacey baked for me. The cake was very Irish through and through. It was a chocolate cake that contained a special ingredient…a potato! The cake was then topped off with a Bailey’s Irish Crème Icing and a Shamrock design. Potatoes, Baileys and Shamrocks…it doesn’t get much more Irish than that!
In addition to the events of my 25th birthday, the day also caused me to pause to reflect on the past 25 years. Having lived only a quarter of my life at this point, it is clear that I have been blessed many times over. I have been fortunate enough to be educated in some of the world’s greatest academic institutions. I have traveled to nearly every continent of the world. I am blessed with a loving family. And most importantly, I fell in love with the woman of my dreams, and we are living out those dreams every day. God has been good to me, and I am more than thrilled to be where I am at this stage in my life.
The other significant event of the past few months was indeed a highlight of my time here in Ireland. A few weeks ago, we Mitchell Scholars had the honor of meeting with Senator George Mitchell in Dublin. We shared casual conversation for a couple of hours on topics ranging from Northern Ireland and the Middle East to what each scholar hoped to do after our time here in Ireland was over. I found Sen. Mitchell to be an agreeable man of integrity and poise. My impression was that his dedication to public service is unwavering, and his desire to make a positive difference in the world unquestionable. But more than anything, I was impressed by how “normal” he was. He was humble, humorous, and sincere in every action. We are all blessed to have such a man working on behalf of peace in the most difficult areas of the world.
Finally, it might have been a bit of homesickness or nostalgia, but I decided to pick up David MacCullough’s Truman the other day from the Queen’s University library. I have been meaning to work through this 1,000+ pages chronicle of President Harry S. Truman’s life for some time now, but never seemed to have the time to. It seems a bit odd that I had to travel so far away from home, to read up on one of my hometown heroes and one of America’s most beloved personalities. Reading the book has a very special significance for me, as the references to street names, buildings, and areas of Kansas City, Independence and elsewhere in Missouri are much more than mere print to me…they are in many ways the backdrop to my own formative years. When MacCullough talks about the Jazz District at 18th & Vine St. in Kansas City, I can all but hear the sexy saxophone solo coming from the Blue Room. When he mentions Truman’s speeches on the steps of the Independence Courthouse or his later life at the Gates-Wallace House on North Delaware Street, I recall fondly my elementary and high school education at a small school just blocks away. And when MacCullough describes Kansas City from the West Bottoms to the Riverfront to Truman’s haberdashery on 12th St. in downtown, a smile comes to my face and a glimmer in my eye as I reflect on how much the center of my hometown has changed since Truman’s days but how much character it has retained.
In the remaining months here, I hope to finish up my studies at Queen’s University, spend more time exploring the Emerald Island, and prepare for my return home. This entire experience is truly a blessing, and I am forever grateful!