You’re very welcome. Very welcome to University. Very welcome to the pub. Very welcome to church. Very welcome to Ireland.
Ireland is often said to be the land of 100,000 welcomes. Almost wherever you go across the island, Céad Míle Fáilte, or a hundred thousand welcomes, greet you. It is cliché, but real.
These meetings have invited me to peer into Ireland and Northern Ireland’s history, natural beauty, and dynamic communities. At Dublin Castle, Kilmainham jail, or ruins on the Wild Atlantic Way, I was moved by the history we often overlook given America’s youth. Along the Kerry Cliffs, the Connemara mountains, or the Howth trails, I came to appreciate Irish pride in the island’s beauity. In pubs near Trinity College, Dublin churches, or events I have attended, I have been stirred to think about Ireland’s current moment and place in the world.
Ireland greeted me with humility, hospitality, and friendly smiles. Yet while I am very welcome, I am learning to actually be present. To be still. To soak up the moments I inhabit instead of wandering on to the next. And to then contribute genuinely with what I have experienced. Fortunately, I am doing so alongside a remarkable group of Mitchell scholars.
The most important lesson Ireland has taught me, of the many I could list, has been to embrace and learn from the welcome and the opportunity to be a part of the moments, exchanges, and landscapes you encounter. Sure, I knew this conceptually before I began my year and perhaps lived it from time to time. I am now challenged daily to live it out.
We can learn from this approach. I adore the city of Washington DC and its people, where I lived for the last three years. But it is no surprise in one of the most political cities around the world, the mantra seemed to be the famous West Wing line, “What’s next.” Looking to the future is undeniably important. We all have our perspectives, passions, and dreams. But can we take a moment to be welcome? Can we take a moment to enjoy the process and let it surprise us?
As I have increasingly done so, I have continued to see, as one might expect, that the story is more complicated. It has layers, history, and interpretations. To be welcome and truly meet a place or person is to grapple with our past, present, and future. Under the surface of hospitality are experiences, expectations, and hopes. For the Irish, that might include impressions of colonialism, the Troubles, and economic challenges. It might include Dublin’s current housing crisis, Brexit, and Ireland’s role in the world.
It is hard be vulnerable and to talk through our realities. To get past the first greeting. To wonder outside our routine. But I am grateful to have been invited to take a glimpse into the lives around me: the Dublin taxi driver, a classmate from lesser-known Irish county, or a stranger in a new town. Perhaps we can apply some of these lessons to our political interactions, if only to think more about how we can approach one another. There is power in perspective. Can we welcome each other and try to think differently about the policies, laws, and ideas for which we fight?
Today, I’m trying to embrace my welcomes. As a wander, I listen, reflect, and learn. I immerse myself and begin to balance myself by appreciating what is behind us, where we currently live, and where we might go. For now, I am going to be present. And very welcome.