The Benedictine Monk

Moving to Ireland was a whirlwind. I left my corporate comfort at Deloitte in the nation’s capital, moved home to South Carolina for a week, and shipped out to the land of Guinness without much thought. I was the last Mitchell to arrive and only had a couple days to settle before our Orientation weekend.

Orientation proved splendid. It was packed with friends of the Mitchell Scholar program and events that showcased the beauty of Ireland. We, Mitchell Scholars, quickly sensed the significance of George Mitchell’s efforts here and his lasting impact. We were greeted with esteem at every stop and – for the Scholars who traveled from outside Dublin – slept in luxury.

The consecutive events were indeed tiring, but it seemed that Trina – the founder of the scholarship – was most excited about our trip to Glenstal Abbey – a monastery in Limerick, Dublin. She claimed that it would be “unforgettable.” By the end of our visit, her sentiment became an indubitable fact.

Perhaps, one need not acknowledge the peculiarity of why a group of scholars routinely visited a Benedictine monastery. But, at first thought, it did seem strange. Nevertheless, those thoughts quickly faded. As we strolled under the grand arched entrance to the castle-like building, peace and serenity met us.

We then were introduced to our tour guide. He became a monk when he was 19. Today was he was 71 years old. We took up staffs and traversed into the adjacent forest with our leader. He told wonderful stories of the trees and plants, many of which he planted decades ago.

We settled after the tour for tea with the monks. (Tea is without a doubt my favorite pastime here). Our fearless tour guide chose to sit at our table and I felt the urge to pontificate with him. I asked, “Our generation seems to be seeking achievement for the sake of recognition rather than searching for a purpose-filled life. Which do you think is noble?” His answer spurred follow-up questions.

I asked, “Evil is inevitable and often overwhelming. What do you think is the role of good in this world?” And he replied. ” Evil is inevitable for time is like a train with no driver. But what is equally necessary is anger. We need it. It is a righteous emotion, one of which exists beside love and good. Nevertheless, we should strive to be like dolphins in the tsunami of evil doing good here and there.” His poeticism was overwhelming and his imagery was unforgettable. That moment was only compounded when Noirin Ni Riain an Irish singer – blessed us with a string of hymns and a recited blessing by John O’Donahue. Even the water welled in my eyes.

That weekend gave me a deeply spiritual beginning to a deeply spiritual country. It settled my nerves and spurred a serenity that has not subsided. Buried deep within the cobblestone streets, the lush green grass, and towering crucifixes is a resounding sentiment of good in the Irish people. Perhaps that good is the result of many years of bad, or perhaps the good is inherent in the land. Whatever its origins may be, I feel it. And, it reminds me ever so subtlely of home.

P.S. – The staff that was given to us upon our visit to the Abbey found a home in my room on Trinity’s campus, or maybe I just asked if I could take it.

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