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Four Years at the Mount

Sophomore year


Carolyn Shields

(January, 2012) Itís all becoming a memory very quickly, isnít it? Time is so brutal, and dreams so extremely fragile. It wasnít until I was on a bus in Spain that I realized that my dream has come true. Iím seeing the world. So what do you do then when your dream comes true? Whatís next?

Spain surprisingly massaged my heart. I devoted at least six hours of research on working out train timetables and bus schedules to get us to either Africa or the Rock of Gibraltar, but the moment we entered Ronda, our hearts were content. As I tell God all the time, it was more than enough. Wearing sunglasses and skirts (and in Davidís case, plaidÖsuch an American, as always) we strolled through the white-washed town, ate tapas without questioning what the chewy bread dish wasópossibly ox tailóand watched the sun set while sipping the thickest hot chocolate ever. Hiking down to the waterfall, laughing and running around Spainís most renowned bull ring, sitting on my deep window sill and looking out at two stars as David talked Plato to Emily late at night, we made the type of beautiful memories that we will share with our grandchildren.

But I wonít lie, while watching the Spanish sun set behind craggy mountains, I couldnít help but be a little sad at the closing of this chapter. Itís that kind of sadness that has settled in my chest. Dreams can be fulfilled. They can end. Has anyone ever thought of the sadness that follows? Yes, my heart still radiates with joy and thanksgiving for Christ blessing me in this way. So itís time to start living for the Eternal, and St. Clare of Assisi summed it up nicely: "Love God. Serve God. Everything is in that." And I will seek the help of the woman who had eternity become time within her, Mary, our Mother.

So not everyone has their dream fulfilled, and some work years trying to achieve a dream that isnít theirs. So believe me, Iím dying of thankfulness. But I was never worthy of thisófor having the wish my heart made, when I was fast asleep, come true.

Speaking of sleep, David, Emily, and I had those three months of traveling catch up with us in Austria. It was below freezing outside, and we conquered Schonbrunn Palaceís gardens and a Christmas market in Vienna before noon. We decided to head back to our hotel to study for upcoming exams and then three hours later we all woke up from a nap. Exhaustion hit us out of nowhere. Did we really just waste three hours in Vienna? Then that night, I found myself holding in so many tears as I watched an Italian opera with German subtitles set in Japan about an American.

At the intermission I looked over at David. "I may need that tissue."

"Are you serious? I slept through part of it. You donít even know whatís going on."

So I poked him during Act II, and then he nudged me when his favorite solo piece was performed. I closed my eyes several times because the orchestra was phenomenal, and though I was thousands of miles away from home, I felt so at peace next to my Ďbig brotherí at an orchestra in Vienna. Oh, and guess who had to wear Converse to the opera because she wasnít thinking when she was packing? And I put my head in my hands and sigh to myself in third person, "CarolynÖ"

But no one ever said how utterly exhausting seeing the world can be. On our one night in Frankfurt, we had a bratwurst picnic in our hotel room after walking through the Christmas market. Emily and I crawled under the sheets in the same bed of our hotel like sisters as David told us a bedtime story about Manny the Merman-man until both of us were asleep. We were thoroughly exhausted that day from our seven-hour train ride from Vienna, during which, at one point, I opened my eyes and took out my headphones to find myself surrounded by Germans who were throwing a party on the train.

There are days here in the finale when I wake up and forget if Iím in Spain or at home, and then I remember Iím in Dublin. Iíve been so tired lately that dreaming, ironically, has ceased. Three months, sixteen flights, eight countries, six trains, fourteen buses, eight castles, twenty-two taxis, two best friends, and one giant world to see. It can honestly wear you out.

Iím going to miss my secret little alcove on the Irish coast where I hid from the rain one day and read the New Testament, but I miss my guitar and my motherís cooking and my best friend so much more right now. Iíll miss listening to the accordion players in the alley before Mass begins, but I miss the beautiful music at the Mountís 7p.m. Sunday Mass so much my soul half aches.

The thing is, and maybe thatís why Iím so weepy writing this, I was expecting to leave Ireland having learned something, or at least why God sent me here, and I donít have an answer. I know time will reveal it--that I may not understand for months yet until God sees me ready for the answer. All I know is that I should have always and will now start living only for the Eternal.

Tomorrow I must pack, and all of this will only become memories. And as we all say goodbye to 2011 and welcome 2012, we should remember to not look to our past with a yearning or toward our future with hesitation. As I shoulder Irish memories as I board my flight home to America, I donít want to cry over these beautiful and final months of 2011 or fear facing the future without a guidebook, because "why plunge into the future? Only the present moment is precious to me, as the future may never enter my soul at all. It is no longer in my power to change, correct or add to the past. And so what the past has embraced I must entrust to God. O present moment, you belong to me, whole and entireÖAlthough I am weak and small, you grant me the grace of your omnipotence. And so, trusting in Your mercy, I walk through life like a little child."

Read other articles by Caroline Shields