That’s it.

The pinnacle of the medieval Welsh narrative tradition is the Mabinogi. I mentioned it in my last blog post because it’s been on my mind quite a bit this year (and especially in the last few weeks). It is made up of four independent texts, called the “branches” of the Mabinogi. What connects these four stories is a single sentence that concludes each of the tales: “And so ends this branch of the Mabinogi.”

The reason I have been so drawn to labelling of these stories as branches is because it forms an interesting metaphor, painting the narrative as a tree. The story is not a single account but rather made up of independent branches, each growing and twisting in their own unique ways but all connected at their base to a shared trunk. The branches define the tree, and the tree is what connects each branch to each other.

I find this image so beautiful. Imagining a narrative as a tree—something which grows and changes, something which splits in half and twists in every which way, something which sprouts and flowers and withers and regrows—what a perfect picture for a story.  A story which can change, can be reinterpreted, can be lost and found, can be twisted and reworked, can spark new thoughts and ideas and traditions.

The Mabinogi‘s concluding sentence has been on my mind recently as my Mitchell year begins to come to a close. Like the stories of the Mabinogi, we often describe episodes of our lives as branches. Growing up Illinois, that’s one branch of my life. Going off to college, another branch. And this year—moving to Ireland, studying at UCC—has been a new branch slowly growing. Each discovery, each adventure creates a small knot in the wood.

As I begin to plan my plane ticket back to Chicago (one-way this time), I have been reflecting on those knots. While looking back at this past year, I have realized—in a contradictory way—how quickly it passed and how long it has been. It must only have been a few weeks ago that I arrived at Dublin Airport, hopped on the train to Cork, and walked to my apartment for the first time. I remember feeling uneasy walking down the street then, everything feeling just a little different than what I was used to: the cars drove on the left side of the road, the buses had two floors, and I didn’t even know where to buy a duvet. But this unease was replaced soon after with a new sense of comfort. I found my go-to coffeeshop, I knew to bring my umbrella everywhere, I met new friends (and I found a suitable duvet). Then in the blink of an eye, it’s time to leave this second home. And I expect I’ll feel a new unease as soon as I do leave.

But as I scroll through my camera roll, I realize how long ago it was that I first arrived. Not just in time—though nine months is not nothing—but in experience. My first photos are from the Mitchell trip to Dublin, really the first time we got to know each other. Then some pictures I took at the Cork Halloween parade and a Christmas party I went to with my roommates. I see photos from Killarney and Galway on my trip around Ireland with Shayna, and I remember getting soaked by the Irish rain (more than once). And then there are the pictures from the February trip to Cobh with Neel and Vivek. Jeez, these all feel so long ago.

Even the more recent adventures feel forever ago. My and Vikram’s trip to Athens—the perfect mix of history and philosophy between the two of us if I do say so myself—and a solo trip to Amsterdam and Brussels take up large chunks of my camera roll.

The capstone to this year, though, was the Mitchell trip to Dingle. All of us together, at the western edge of Ireland. There is no more fitting place to close out our Mitchell year than the place where the sun sets on the island. Hiking together, relaxing together, waking up early and polar plunging together. I can’t believe that was only a week ago.

To think I met the other Mitchells not even one year ago seems so surprising now. It feels like we’ve known each other for years. But I suppose that’s what happens when you pack several years’ worth of experiences together into nine months. 

I am not the same person who came here in September, and I must imagine this goes for all twelve of us. Through the experiences we had—the trips together, the hikes around Ireland, the adventures around Europe—and through our new relationships—with each other, with classmates, with roommates—we have grown and changed. A new branch has formed for each of us, and they have grown together, twisting around each other. 

I am so grateful for this year, and the weight of this experience is stressed by the pause in the Mitchell Scholarship. This has been so special and so unique, and I sincerely hope that the Scholarship continues, allowing future classes the same incredible opportunity as I have had.

Reflecting on these experiences, these relationships, this whole year… I can only say: thank goodness for my phone’s photo storage.

And so ends this branch of our lives. 

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