When taxi drivers, store keepers, professors, and students in Galway mention the winters of 2010 and 2011, they adopt the tone of those recounting tough, repressed experiences. Ice and snow clogged the stone streets of the city as temperatures dipped to -15 C. Freezing temperatures are rare in Ireland, and these winters stuck out as particularly brutal. Just as the Irish were reaching the nadir of their economic crisis, Mother Nature took another whack.
I had learned about the unusual weather first hand. Last year, Joseph Graziano, a 2011 Mitchell Scholar, agreed to talk to me over the phone about living and studying in Galway. But I had a sinking feeling as I waited for more than an hour past the scheduled time for my phone to ring. I learned the next morning that a heavy snowfall had led to power outages in Galway, plunging Joe into the dark and cutting his Skype connection.
This winter so far had been quite mild, with no snowfall and hardly any freezing temperatures. I took advantage of the weather to visit the Christmas market in Galway several times. On one occasion, I met up with Katie Marcum and a friend who were visiting Galway for a few days from Dublin; later, students from my masters program celebrated the end of finals by heading out to the market. The market consisted of more than 30 booths of shopping, food, and entertainment (kangaroo burgers anyone?) packed into Eyre Square, in the center of town. One corner of the square, however, was occupied by Occupy Galway protestors, who are still there now in their sixth month–New York and London have nothing on these guys. The protestors were a jarring juxtaposition to the revelrous Christmas market visitors.
Our luck turned, though, one day in late January. Frigid temperatures led to ice building up layer by layer, inches thick in places. Indeed, the ice blocked our door from fully closing, and I was worried that we might face a power outage.
Katie van Winkle and I sighed. It was finally time to defrost our freezer.
Luckily, the weather outside was cooperative, mild as it had been all winter long. Katie and I tag-teamed to empty the freezer and drag it outside. But we were left puzzled. Years of no-frost American freezers had left us unaccustomed to the brutal work of a defrosting.
We tried table salt. No luck.
We tried to use various sharp-edged tools as pseudo-pick axes. No luck, though I certainly gained a new appreciation for the work of ice sculptors. We tried scalding hot water from an electric kettle. Some success, but the ice was melting at a glacial pace. Our efforts were only moderately successful, and, disappointed, we decided to take a break and try again a little later. When I checked the freezer an hour later, I was pleasantly surprised,. Icebergs the size of little mice had broken off from the main Antarctic mass. Katie and I poured in some more hot water and then made a most un-American decision: we would wait it out. We realized that the key to defrosting was to let time do its work.
The story of the freezer is a good metaphor for my experience as a Mitchell Scholar. I’ve been forced time and again to confront the limitations of my knowledge: tying shoelaces, doing laundry, and defrosting freezers. I’ve learned to be more adaptable, independent, and to take new experiences in stride.
More importantly, though, the Scholarship allowed me the luxury of time. Time to make mistakes and to learn from them. Time to read. Time to think. Time to travel. And time for Chinese takeout and TV.
In sum, my experience as a Mitchell has been composed of more than schoolwork or extracurriculars, friendships or heated dinner table debates (though I do love those debates). An integral component of the experience is simply the time, alone, that I have to grapple with my thoughts. And my freezer.