The Irish Goodbye

I write this reflection from 37,000 feet above the Atlantic on my final flight home from Ireland. Perhaps it’s because I am in a tin can flying through the air at hundreds of miles per hour, or maybe because I have not slept in 36 hours, but this reflection will not follow the carefully considered, politically conscious, well-measured tone that you likely have come to expect from the Mitchell Scholars.  Rather, this will be the most honest reflection I have posted.  The ins and outs of my experience on the island of Ireland in retrospect and its entirety. The full monty.  Trina and Jennie, don’t panic.

I am honestly thrilled to be going home.  My grandmother is terminally ill, I am excited about my thesis, I miss my nephews, friends, girlfriend, and I am starting medical school in August: the final turn before the finish line I have spent my lifetime working toward.  At the same time, I am filled with sadness.  I will miss the cobbles of Trinity; the sound of the sax players on Grafton at midnight, the cookies from Marks and Spencer; the nights at Café en Seine, Temple Bar, the Quays, and Porterhouse. Gone is the Perfect Pint; the friends I made from far and wide; evensong at St. Patrick’s Cathedral; the barristas at Starbucks and the “samples” they made just for me. I will also miss the freedom of living alone, abroad, and away from familiarity as I return to the South, traffic, and a local cell phone (for which far too many people have the number).

Ultimately, however, the greatest feeling of loss comes from what I feel this experience could have been and was not. The sentiment is admittedly irrational – it is not a matter of what it could have been, but what I built it up in my mind to be. The Mitchell reflections of years past painted a picture of Willy Wonka’s factory filled with wonders and delights at every turn and a magical elevator that lifts you to new heights.  Naively, that is exactly what I expected, but life is not filled with golden eggs and Oompa-Loompas. (Yes, I looked up the spelling.)  It has ups, downs, good and bad.

The world is experiencing the stress of the plates of change, and I found myself falling between those plates this year: undergraduate, medical school, continents on either side of the Atlantic. Ireland elected a new government, my Masters program hired a new course director, Trinity selected a new provost, and the Alliance hired a new program director.  Shifts in leadership can cause instability and uncertainty for those being led, and I can attest that this year was filled with uncertainty. For a recovering middle child, type-A, perfectionist – that is a challenge greater than Everest.

Unfortunately, it is only as I retreat back to the States that I realize this year for what it was. No, it wasn’t perfect – but it was perfectly imperfect. I had my challenges, successes, victories, and failures. This year was my experience for all that it actually was and not what I thought that it was supposed to be.  Ultimately, I gained and experienced far more than I anticipated in even my idealistic fantasy – just in different ways.

I learned an immeasurable amount from the changes that I experienced and I am a different person than when this experience began – with the same Irish hair, skin, eyes, and freckles.  I leave Ireland with great friends that will last a lifetime.  I leave Ireland as part of a community of Scholars with a shared experience of the ups and downs of life in our uniquely individual ways. I leave Ireland with a new professional path and direction to my career that I might never have discovered elsewhere. I have an inspired and heightened fervor to act for better health and quality of life around the world. My relationships are stronger, my convictions are deeper, and my perspective is broader because of my time in Ireland. My tastebuds are also spoiled by the taste of fresh Guinness. I have a deeper understanding of my ancestors, who left County Cork for new opportunity. I have a greater, vested interest in the future and success of the island of Ireland and its people.

With profound appreciation for the U.S.-Ireland Alliance, the U.S. Government, the Irish Government, Trina Vargo, and Jennie LaMonte for making this perfectly imperfect experience and its contribution to my fabric possible, I bid farewell to Ireland, Dublin, Trinity, and Temple Bar until we meet again.

Stephen

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