Upon the completion of my first two months in Ireland on the Mitchell Scholarship, I have much to be thankful for and even more to anticipate. These past months of adjustment have revealed the charm of Irish culture and challenged myself and my fellow class to maximize our time here.
As someone who is accustomed to a very rigid schedule of eating, exercising, and studying, Ireland has in effect thrown all of that out the window. Which is a good thing. Oftentimes, structure impedes exploration – and a set routine can confine one entirely to their comfort zone.
One day in September I was talking with my cab driver about places to go and things to try out. He told me of an Irish expression – “iasacht lamh” – meaning to “lend your hand.” Originating from an old tale of feuding families, the expression depicts one family member trying to make peace with the other side by offering a handshake through a carved hole in a wooden door – a risky leap of faith as their opponents stood on the other side with knives and swords aplenty. Albeit an extreme analogy, this saying symbolizes the excitement of embracing uncertainty: “lending your hand” to new experiences.
There are other slogans and hot takes that local cab drivers have willingly dished out, not all entirely appropriate for a published blog, but this advice has proven to be particularly useful. Here in Ireland, I’ve settled into a new rhythm of unpredictability – which has already yielded fruitful experiences.
Walking along the cliffs of Howth and Moher and traversing the mural-laden streets of Belfast are just a few things that have added to my experience. Learning of Ireland’s difficult colonial past and struggles with ethnic conflict make me appreciate all the more a society’s ability to reconcile and move forward, even with all the baggage. The first impression one gets when traveling the Emerald Isle is the awe of its immense natural beauty. For me, such scenery proclaims God’s majesty and serves as a reminder of how much we take for granted.
As a proud Tennessean and adopted Kentuckian, my belief in “southern hospitality” can now make a new exception. People here have been incredibly accommodating and have gone the extra mile to help. During my first week here I emailed a local pastor, out of the blue, about visiting his church. The next afternoon, we were sipping coffee together with his wife, discussing each other’s lives and the mission of the Church. The next week, I found myself at their home with other young adults from our congregation eating soda bread, vegetable soup, and watching the GAA finals. “The land of a thousand welcomes” holds fast and true.
When our Mitchell class visited Glenstal Abbey, a poem by the late Irish poet John O’Donohue was read to us before we departed. The words of the poem not only confirm Ireland’s long tradition of literary genius, but also perfectly speak to the start of this new experience – a full year of study, fellowship, and exploration:
“Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening…
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.”
Here’s to a new Irish beginning, a year of lending one’s hand to new experiences and people, and a new rhythm of risk and promise.