The University of the Waves

A view of the sea from Salthill

In my application essay for the Mitchell, I had referenced a letter I had written to my freshman year advisor at Brown. In that letter, I had written the following:

“As September approaches, I am reminded of James Joyce’s Eveline from The Dubliners – the young woman whose compliance to the past and fear of insecurity immobilizes her. Unlike Eveline, I wish to thrust myself into all of the indefinite ‘seas of the world’ without hesitation, disregarding the possibility of drowning by learning how to swim. Sometimes I wonder who I may become or what I may achieve. I am quite excited … as I begin a migration that involves not only physical movement, but movement of discovery. I realize that a true education is as much about discovering the world and people around you as it is affirming yourself as an individual.”

Now, four years later and two months spent surrounded by Ireland’s waters (the same waters Eveline must have looked upon), I don’t fail to recognize the relevance – both literal and figurative – of my 18 year old self’s words.

I have always felt bound to something or someone – my family, my friends, my school, my home. But here, abroad for the first time, I suddenly find myself in a new land without any previous connections. This has been both frightening and comforting at the same time – a mixture of expectation and ease in getting lost, over and over again, and each time finding myself a little different from before.

There is nothing more peaceful to me, for example, than the anonymity of being able to wander by myself, past the sweater shops and colorful cafes that line Galway’s streets, while the songs of street musicians envelop the air – wrapping around each and every person who hurries past, forging a transient connection that appears and disappears. The brief interactions, the quick glances, the shared ritual of being both alone and together – they all produce a steady pulse that creates and gives movement to us all.

My favorite poet, Pablo Neruda, once wrote: “I need the sea because it teaches me… the fact is that until I fall asleep, in some magnetic way I move in the university of the waves.”

We can’t know what the waves will bring, nor what they will take back. But perhaps it is in being able to appreciate this uncertainty that we can feel most certain and secure. Indeed, you look onto the sea and realize it is beautiful because it is always moving – collecting all your loose thoughts and hidden worries, your disappointments and doubts, as if they were shells on the shore.

As every day passes and each present moment becomes a more simple memory, I realize my time here is limited – and just as quickly as I have come, I, like the waves, will also leave. But I also realize that long after I leave here, it will not be the degree or the achievements or the finishing up of something or ending up somewhere that will have changed me but, rather, the people I will have met, the histories I will have uncovered, and the places that will have become a part of me.

And, like Neruda, I can claim: “the soft unfolding of the wave…replaced my world in which were growing stubborn sorrow…and my life changed suddenly: as I became part of its pure movement.”

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