I have never truly examined who I am, what I stand for, and in what I believe. My first two months in Ireland have not revealed concrete answers to these questions, but this time has given me the opportunity to ask them.
My mind wanders to these questions as I explore the Irish countryside by bicycle. I have grown up on the bike, and Irish cycling is simply the best. One of my favorite places to ride is past the little village of Malahide, about twenty kilometers north of Dublin. Estuary Road meanders along the water and occasionally I have to stop for swan crossing, as seen in the picture. These animals are enormous, and I think their size is bolstered by the locals who come to this spot to feed them bread. My other favorite cycling spot is the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin. It takes me almost an hour to get out of the city because I have to start in the north and ride through it, but I am happy when I do. The rolling green mountains open up in front of me as I lightly pedal through the lush countryside. I encountered all types of weather during my latest ride to the south. First is was bright shining sunlight, then that sideways sort of rain which stings the cheek, next came about five minutes of hail. I was lucky enough to get some shelter at a bus stop. Although relaxing and sometimes surprising, no bike ride has ever given me the answers to the questions I ask.
I guess the one thing that I have figured out for sure is that I do not like being alone. It was difficult to move to Ireland and have my own room. Growing up I lived with two brothers, for four years at the Academy had the same roommates, and after leaving the Academy I married the love of my life. I have never been alone. After a few days of this mental agony, I met my roommates. Alan Armstrong, a native Dubliner of the Blanchardstown area, took me to a local pub where we watched the all Ireland Gaelic Football finals. We got to know each other over Guinness and Irish stew. A few days later Elvin Gjevori of Albania moved into the other room in our flat. Although we each have our own room and bathroom, we spend most of our time in the common area. Elvin and I have grown a tight bond of friendship. We trade the cooking responsibilities between each other. Elvin worked as a cook to put himself through college, and he has taught me how to improve my chicken, potatoes, and pasta. One such lesson is to make the pasta in the same water used to boil the chicken.
The transition from physics to international security and conflict studies has been a good one. I brought my analytical thinking skills from physics to the papers I am writing for my classes. Elvin reads over them and exclaims that I write like a scientist, only the facts and specific opinions are written. I recently submitted my thesis proposal, “Could the Use of, or Threat to Use, Nuclear Weapons Ever be Legal?” I am doing my dissertation in the realm of international law because I believe it will allow me to think broadly about this issue. I have no presupposition as to what the answer might be.
My program is good because of the material presented, but what makes it great is the diverse classroom. I am the only American in my class of nearly twenty five. Sadik, the only Iraqi in our class, is a lawyer from Baghdad looks who looks at issues from different angles than anyone else. Jotaro, a journalist from Toyko, is taking the course to better understand the world he writes about in his newspapers. The rest of our class is mostly from Ireland. A few guys are in the Irish Defense Forces and others are trying to get into the Garda, Ireland’s police force. My closest friend in the class is Ronan, and he hopes to work for the UN when finished with the program. Our class on International Law is heavily focused on the UN and what it is able to accomplish in the world. My International Security class seems to be taught from a realpolitik perspective. The course I am taking in Conflict Resolution is centrist in its dialogue and focused heavily on the new academic work in the subject. I am glad to be learning in an international environment about issues that I am passionate about. I tend to leave class either excited or depressed. Excited about the future and the possibility for great things to happen in the world, or depressed about some of the actions taken by my country over the past decade. I support my country and I will fight and die if called to do so, but reflecting on the Iraq War with Sadik has sobered my thoughts.
No reflection would be complete without recognizing the difficult nature of living in a marriage separated by half the world. My wife, Nicki, is on deployment on a frigate off the coast of South America. We communicate by email and although I do not get to hear her voice, it is good to know she is well and doing her best to lead her division. I could not be more proud of her, and I anxiously wait for the day we get to be together.
Sitting at the western most point at the Eastern most corner of the Cliffs of Moher with my roommates made me truly grateful for the opportunity I have here. Looking out at the sea gave me a connection to my wife who is gazing upon the same water. Ireland truly is a special country and hopefully over the course of this year I will get to answer my questions.