The day has come. We have finally received our coveted Mitchell rings. They are gorgeous pieces of jewelry made of recycled silver that came engrained with several symbols, including the salmon of knowledge.
I’m still trying to figure out what magical properties our rings possess. They unite our class of Mitchell Scholars, of course, and they serve as lasting symbols of our time and lifelong connection to Ireland.
I still think they can do something cooler. Like maybe with the power of all our rings combined we can summon the presence George Mitchell himself. Or the spirit of St. Patrick. Or at the very least a chubby green Irishman named Captain McPlanet who seeks to restore peace and balance throughout the land.
The rings are also symbolic of goals achieved. I now have a master’s degree in international human rights law, which is pretty cool. I survived the record floods, the “big freeze”, the invisible volcanic ash cloud, and the summertime “heat” waves, which is also pretty damn cool. I have ended an experience with an organization that is going on its eleventh year of sending very fortunate people to Ireland to study what they love and learn more about themselves along the way.
As the Irish would say, it’s been “feckin’ deadly.”
I came to Ireland with several other goals in mind, some more ambitious than others. The list included things like getting back into drawing, learning more about Irish history, writing more, becoming a better runner, and jumping into the Atlantic Ocean off of Galway’s coast.
I am proud to admit that at the top of my list was seeing the Cranberries perform live. It was an ambitious goal in the sense that the Cranberries had been on hiatus for years. As fate would have it they reunited and began a world tour shortly after I came to Ireland. During our trip in Brussels, I had the chance to see and hear them perform all of their classic songs, including Zombie, Linger, and Dreams.
Dreams is a beautiful song. I fell in love with it when it came out in 1993. I was in third grade at the time, and as I grew up and formulated my own hopes and dreams, I would listen to it often.
“Oh my life. Is changing everyday. In every possible way.”
Nearly fifteen odd years after first hearing the song, I find myself returning to it, as my entire life is about to change radically. For the first time in three years, I will be living in the United States. For the fourth time since college, I’m about to say goodbye to a way of life and an assortment of people, some of whom I may never see again.
Not everything has changed, per se. The end of my year in Ireland has come full circle in ways I never would have expected. Again I find myself squatting at the “Haus of BBM” (Irish friends named Bill, Brendan, and Mary). While the setting is the same, the dynamics of the household have transformed radically. Mary is off to live and work Japan in August, fulfilling her life’s dream to be in a place that has always provided her with incredible artistic inspiration from a distance. Bill is off to London and Borneo to work and pursue a PhD in geology. Brendan is on his way to Spain or Japan.
BBM aren’t the only ones who are leaving. My roommate Johnny left for Belgium. The Mitchells are scattering about, some returning to school and others to work. Lady Gaga’s left Europe and is probably touring somewhere in Asia.
When I do come back, the Ireland I have come to know and love will only be a memory. Gone will be the days of cooking Mexican food for the Mitchells and Irish friends with the setting sun glowing over Salt Hill. Gone will be the days of volunteering at Fighting Words as an illustrator and storyteller, helping children with their creative writing projects. I probably won’t be racing with Christina through the golden valleys of Connemara anytime soon. Who knows the next time I will be back to listen to Irish writers share their stories at Listowel. And if I’m dancing to Alejandro or Telephone, it won’t be with my crazy cast of Irish friends at Dignity, my favorite Galway club.
I have learned so much from this experience (i.e. it is humanly possibly to pronounce “Niamh” as “Niev”) and the people we met who opened their homes and lives to us. At the same time, I feel like I still know so little – a fact that was confirmed by a last place finish at a pub quiz in Belfast. A year simply isn’t enough time to take everything in. I feel like this entire experience has just begun, and now it’s already time to leave.
What I have failed to learn in terms of facts pales in comparison to what Ireland has taught me personally. I came to Ireland feeling like a very complete individual. I had severe doubts about how much a place known for its lack of sunshine and abundance of rain could change me. But it has. It wasn’t in the United States, Asia, or Latin America where I learned to reconnect on a much more intense level with my artistic side. I’ve been writing much more, and my friend Mary, a manga artist, has finally inspired me to design characters from my stories through painting and drawing. The writers at Listowel showed me how important it is to document our stories and memories. The kids at Fighting Words taught me not to be bashful about sharing our ideas and to be confident – if people don’t like what we do, then let them do something better.
Ireland also taught me the importance of human interaction. No matter what we are working on, it can usually be set aside for a chunk of time to talk with someone about life over a cup of tea and digestives.
“And then I open up and see the person falling here is me. A different way to be.”
I won’t miss everything, of course. Namely the time someone in a car threw a half-eaten apple at me while I was riding home on my bike. Or arriving to class soaked in rainwater. Or the near daily “shoutings” from perfect strangers reminding me of how brown my skin was or telling me to “cut my head” or to go back to France.
I still haven’t been able to figure out what these comments mean – one of the many things I walk away from Ireland not knowing. Are they meant to illicit a response? Are they meant to classify foreign looking people? Or am I just an easy target?
Our rings are engraved with another symbol that is supposed to be St. Patrick. To me it looks more like an old man with a walking stick. I like my interpretation of it, because everything that Ireland has given me this year will remain with me for a very long time. I have so much to thank the country and its people for, not to mention the other Mitchell Scholars who made this experience that much more enlightening. They constantly remind me of what it means to develop aspirations and strive to make our dreams a reality.
“They’ll come true. Impossible not to do. Impossible not to do.”
If I ever find myself faltering, I know I’ll have this ring to remind me of it all. If it can’t in fact summon George Mitchell or Captain McPlanet, that’s fine. I can deal with that, for the ring is already more than magical enough for me.