So this will be my last post here. I board a plane headed for Philadelphia in a few days, and the goodbye’s have begun. I want to thank Temple’s Education Abroad and Overseas Campuses office at the outset of this post for allowing me this platform and the wonderful opportunity to document some of my thoughts and experiences during my time in Dublin. I also want to thank anyone who has taken the time to read a post or two on this page, by myself or one of my fellow writers. Writing these posts has forced me to try to make sense of my sometime incoherent onslaught of thoughts and emotions and has left me with a lasting insight into my changing mindset over the course of this experience.
This experience has been somewhat of an incubator-of-time with regards to relationships and self-discovery. Many of the relationships I’ve had here have spanned the entire relationship life cycle that normally takes years to evolve in just a few months. The relationship life cycle that I speak of is a parallel to the arc that characterizes any good story line (the introduction, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution/epilogue). I’ve also managed to learn more about myself and how I fit into this curious world in the past few months than I have in the past two or three years. It’s a strange notion to feel as if, on one hand, years spanned in just months, but on the other side of it, to feel as if I just got done unpacking my bags and now I have to find my suitcase again.
When I first arrived in Dublin (and pretty much up until the last week or so), I’ve been conscious that this time would eventually come to an end and that I’d return to the life that I essentially put on hold back in Philadelphia, but that always seemed like a far-off reality. I plunged into this experience and invested myself fully in it, which is why it is rather difficult to see it come to an end. Even as I write this, I am starting to get that sinking feeling in my stomach that grips you in a moment when you catch yourself wishing you had more control over the outcome of things. Of course I know that to attempt to impose one’s will on an inevitably uncontrollable outcome is to simply invite disappointment and discontent. There is a beginning and an end to all things; they are two necessary ends to the same whole, but sometimes that thought doesn’t make it any easier to see something so good come to an end.
Despite the melancholy that accompanies it, I leave these Irish shores with a full heart and a renewed spirit. The people that I’ve met over the last four months and the experiences that I’ve had have completely reorganized my sense of self and have drastically altered my perspective. I know this may sound a bit odd, but I feel like more of human than I did when I arrived. I didn’t consciously identify as an alien before my time here, but my experiences have helped me to uncover the deep connection that binds everyone on this earth together and to the earth itself. My alienness (for lack of a better word) was a result of a few different patterns of thought that I’ve managed to break (or at least acknowledge) in the past few months. I feel like I’ve gotten closer to that thing that I’ve been searching for forever. Here’s what I mean and how I’ve reconciled…
I think it’s safe to say that most people tend to measure themselves and the value of their experiences against what others are doing, and many times our emotions are swayed not by the reality of our own experience but how that experience measures up against a preconceived idea of what is good and what is not so good. To live in a community is to live relatively to those in that community, but, with the advent of social media, the metric by which we measure ourselves has changed. We now spend our time competing with a projected version of others thanks to social media, which happens to be a standard that is frankly impossible to live up to. I know that the life that I actually live is much different from the one that my FaceBook page projects for me. Most people that I know don’t put up photos of themselves taking down a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream after a stressful day, but the reality is that everyone has an off day or two (or four). At the outset of this study abroad experience, the reality of my experiences always left me a bit unsure of myself. Am I making the absolute most of this experience? Am I making lifelong friends? Am I spending my time in the right way? I always felt that, no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t doing enough because other people are clearly doing more.
Somewhere along the way it became clear to me that I was taking the wrong approach. I’m not exactly sure what precipitated this adjustment in mindset, but, at some point, I realized that the only thing that matters is what’s going on right here, right now. I was lucky enough to catch myself in time to look around and think, “Man, I have some really great friends, and this is the coolest experience that I’ve ever had”. I never thought that four months would be enough time to foster relationships that are truly life-altering, but as I prepare to leave behind these people that I’ve grown so close to in the past four months, it’s quite clear that I’ve made friends that have profoundly enriched my life.
Amidst a sea of uncertainty, I found clarity. The value of one’s experiences is entirely subjective because reality itself is subjective. I set out into the unknown with an entirely altered perspective as a result of subjectivity. I am now confident, that for myself, success is measured in love, and I want to spend the rest of my time on this earth with that in mind.
“But you cannot understand life and its mysteries as long as you try to grasp it. Indeed, you cannot grasp it, just as you cannot walk off with a river in a bucket. If you try to capture running water in a bucket, it is clear that you do no understand it and that you will always be disappointed, for in the bucket the water does not run. To “have” running water you must let go of it and let it run. The same is true of life and of God” (excerpt from The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts)