I’m sitting on the train, eating one of Joanne’s Bagged 24-hour Baked Scones (4 for 2 euro, how could I have resisted that?) and staring at my screen. It’s 16:25 and the sun has already disappeared, dark purple flowing over the sky to fill the empty space. Past the reflection of myself and the Irish Rail cart, I can see rapidly moving black trees in front of large low hills like the back of a great mythological beast.
I’m on my way back from Wexford Town, and I have about a two-hour journey ahead of me until the train comes into Connolly Station in Dublin City. I’d just spent the day birding at Wexford National Wildfowl reserve (since I couldn’t see my mom on her birthday, I decided to do her favorite activity instead), watching the wintering Greenland white-fronted geese, and hiking Raven’s Point forest which ended in a West-Michigan-esque view of sand dunes and waves. Of course, I’m listening to an Irish music playlist, and the last refrain of Danny Boy dies away into the constant growl of the train.
I’m not really sure what to say, so I take another bite of scone instead.
I’m at the halfway point? No, I don’t think so. I can’t be.
The intercom comes on, and a recorded voice speaks Gaelic. Then in English says, “We will shortly be arriving at Enniscorthy. Please, mind the gap. Thank you for traveling with Iarnród Éireann.” I stare as artificial lights disconnected from anything in the dark come into sight, the landscape no longer dominated by primal black-upon-black. People get on, people get off. I hope no one sits next to me, and no one does; it’s a Wednesday night, who would be traveling into the city right now?
I arrived in Ireland the morning of Tuesday, January 7th. As of today, I’ve been in Ireland seven weeks and a day. Seven weeks of class remain. It’s true, I’m really halfway done.
I feel exhausted; I spent the last few hours either traveling place to place via taxi or quickly hiking through beautiful Southern Ireland natural land so I could make it back in time for the last train back; I had just enough time upon arriving back in Wexford to see Selksar Abbey, and rapidly scourge through the nearest supermarket for a good deal on peanut butter (alas, none to be found) before hopping on and collapsing into my seat, my legs sobbing in relief as pressure lessened. I’m dying to order something, but the only place I’ll pay 3 or more euro for tea is at the Queen of Tarts Bakery in Cows Lane, Dublin City. I finish the fourth and final scone of the day.
I’m no stranger to time’s curious pace; ever since I stepped foot on Hope’s campus in August 2017, life has been at warp speed, leaving me dazed and confused and wanting to sleep. But these last seven weeks…I’ve blinked, and suddenly I’ve missed it all. I’ve gotten a ticket at a movie theatre, for the sole purpose of one scene in the very middle and have spent the last hour waiting eagerly for it to start. But now the scene is almost finished, and I’m realizing as I scrape the butter-encrusted bottom of the popcorn bowl with my fingers, looking for something other than a seed, I looked forward so much to that one scene that I didn’t prepare at all for its ending.
The Parting Glass begins to play in my earphones and this does nothing to assuage the trickle of casual panic dripping through my mind. This panic began with a conversation with fellow Hope College Writer’s Program member Morgan, as we hiked in Killarney National Park earlier this week. She said something along the lines of;
“After Midterm break we’ll only have forty-ish days left.”
And that got lodged in me.
I gaze out the window into complete and utter blankness, and I think we must be looking out to the sea; I’d had such an amazing view of it on the train in. There’s no movement, nothing passing by; just infringing night.
What have I done? It doesn’t feel like enough. But, in my defense, I doubt anything would feel like enough. Even in small, Indiana-size Ireland, there is so much to see, to do, to learn. I’ve seen the provinces of Leinster, Munster, and Connacht; only Ulster left. Been to quite a few counties, so many left unexplored. I didn’t go off and travel the first few weekends of the semester; a few friends and I decided to get to know Dublin and take it slow. I don’t regret that decision; everyone approaches studying abroad with different hopes, fears, and motivations. I needed to feel a sense of comfort and could only achieve that by centering myself in Dublin. But I am at times a little jealous of everyone who’s already been all around Ireland and are now setting sights on what’s beyond the little island.
“We will shortly be arriving at Rathdrum. Please, mind the gap. Thank you for traveling with Iarnród Éireann.” I look out, unfortunately catch a glimpse of my reflection, and brush the hair out of my face.
I don’t really understand how to process everything. One of the, surprisingly, several good habits I’ve picked up while abroad has been daily journaling. Each night, I’ll fill pages upon pages with my impatient scrawl, noting the meals I’ve had, the conversations I’ve engaged in, the topics we’ve discussed in class. I thought this would help process my experiences, and to an extent I think it has, but I still am sitting here warming my cold fingers, without a clue for how I got from A to B or C or maybe it’s N at this point.
I’m finding it difficult to focus on classwork, though this isn’t a surprise in the least. Things are moving too fast, the thought of sitting down at my desk and reading some sort of history seems aggravating and unbearable. The only moments where time seems to slow just a little are these ones, on trains, buses and coffeeshops, where I can sip my (hypothetical) tea and watch the world around me. It’s times like these when I feel like I can focus and streamline my thoughts into a coherent form. It’s partly why I love the experience of riding the train. It’s almost like reverse psychology; my brain, seeing the physical world blur by, relaxes, allowing the metaphysical one to take some leisure.
“We will shortly be arriving at Greystones. Please, mind the Gap. Thank you for traveling with Iarnród Éireann.” I can barely see anything now, except when we pass by a streetlight and I catch a glimpse of someone bundled in a winter coat, giving the train a harried glance or smoking a cigarette. These seem like intimate snapshots of a life I’ll never live, enclosed in a warm gold halo.
I’m trying, I really am, to milk every moment that passes for what it’s worth, to live in the moment. But it’s a lot of effort, to live life to the fullest; maybe that’s why few people ever do it successfully. One thing I look forward to when I’m home (which isn’t some far point in the future any more) is the release of pressure, the lessening desire to be constantly traveling, exploring, experiencing.
That being said, the desire is currently still there and still very much present. Being in Ireland has- I like to believe- imbued me with an energy and motivation I can’t remember every possessing. Not only physically, but creatively as well; I’ve never been so inspired to write, and I’ve never written as much as I have here (we’re just hoping at least a little bit of it is good). So many seconds of my day is spent wondering how I could turn this experience or emotion into written word. The tragedy of this is that very little of what I write is for school despite the fact that all my classes are writing classes. Oh well.
“We will shortly be arriving at Dún Laoghaire. Please, mind the Gap. Thank you for traveling with Iarnród Éireann.“
I think that, if you’re planning on studying abroad, accept the inevitability of time’s passing. I had been so anxious about leaving, I hadn’t given a thought to the idea that at some point I’d be right where I am right now. Accept the fact that you will leave, before you arrive. It will save you a lot of stress. Realize that you only have a limited time in the place you are at. Also realize that this isn’t a curse (or a blessing, depending on how your study abroad is going); it’s just a fact of life. The shortness of your time abroad is what makes it so sweet. My last semester at hope was the best so far because it was all coming to a momentary end. Likewise, this semester has been the best few weeks of my life, partly because I know that time is shortening day by day. Don’t let time be your enemy, let it be your aid. Allow the transience of your time abroad sweeten the moments and preserve the memories. Let it focus your mind, and to teach it to only focus on the present moment. So much of what I’ve done so far, it’s because time has urged me to be more brave, exploratory, and open to experience. I still have quite a ways to go in those extents, don’t get me wrong. I’m getting better though, and that wouldn’t be happening unless time wasn’t always standing beside me, checking his watch.
But of course, I’m being unnecessarily dramatic; I’m at the halfway point, I’m not quite home yet. There’s still so much time to go, so many experiences to have, before I arrive at my seat on the plane heading to Chicago O’Hare. I’m eager for everything planned and everything unplanned. If the last half of my semester is partially as amazing as the first half, then I’ll have had a successful experience abroad. I feel as if I’m going into this next part of my journey just a tad bit wiser, and really that’s all I can ask for.
“We will shortly be arriving at Connolly. Please, mind the Gap. Thank you for traveling with Iarnród Éireann.”
Just like that, my journey is over, and I join the horde of people exiting the train and entering onto the freezing city streets. The night is a theatre stage of lights; I feel illuminated the entire way home.