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Four Years at the Mount

Sophomore year

Life is Just Happening

Carolyn Shields

(12/2011) I’m sitting in our church in Dublin and I hear the harmonica player on the other side of the wall, standing beneath the string of Christmas lights. I close my eyes and reach into my heart, thanking God for David kneeling beside me, who helped me as I stumbled back from a pub to my apartment, not sure why or how I was so dizzy. Who inspired me to dig deep into the crevices of my Bible when I came to him with a panicked heart, and who carried me on his back across a puddle in the face of the Atlantic. For the memory of praying the rosary with him with the distant Cliffs of Moher bearing witness, and for treasure hunting on the fields of time and within the boundaries of Europe with me.

I thank God for Emily and all the belts of laughter between us, for the memory of our walking out of London’s grim Victoria Station and beholding the Apollo Theatre with towering advertisements for "Wicked," and by some miracle acquiring tickets to that evening’s performance. For jumping with joy in the downtown London streets. For running in the Irish countryside, not because we had any certain place to go, and our only watches were our cellphones thrown somewhere in our book bags, but simply because we could taste a rare freedom that millions only dream of. We ran until we were out of breath. I thank God for her humor, when we stood on Tower Bridge—and not London Bridge—chanting U.S.A! to those passing below on ferries, and for her contagious twinkling laugh that is always reflected.

I thank God for their companionship during these weeks as the three of us take on Europe. In early December we will plant a few more American footprints on Spanish soil, and then take a stroll to our opera in Austria and explore Christmas markets in Germany. John 16:33 says, "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world."

So this Christmas season I have so much to be thankful for. But like Advent, nothing lasts forever. So here’s to us right now. Here’s to our anticipation of the first Dublin snowfall. Here’s to our daily meals of peanut butter sandwiches and frozen pizzas. To cold European showers and hormonal Irish skies. Here’s to our handshake after we conquered another country. Here’s to our conversations within the folds of wooden walls in pubs whether in Dublin, or Scotland, England or Belgium. Here’s to the adventures still ahead: climbing the Rock of Gibraltar in southern Spain, seeing the Viennese opera, returning home to our loved ones on that approaching date, December 14th. To our continuous journey to that scary and far-off land that doesn’t have a chapter in a single Rick Steves book: the Future.

These past two months have been filled with adventures ranging from absolutely sprinting to catch our flight home from Paris ("Hold on miss, take off your belt. Miss, did you empty your pockets? Wait, miss-" "MY FLIGHT IS GOING TO LEAVE!") to absolutely taking our time as we stroll amongst the ruins of a 12th century castle in Scotland. Last night? We saw Michael Buble light up Grafton Street’s Christmas lights.

But there’s been more mishaps than my sprinting to my flight two weekends in a row. Ahem, it is three hours before we leave for our four-day vacation to Paris and Rome. David calls me saying he’s throwing up. I calmly finish painting my fingernails and ignore the bile rising up in my throat. "God, I trust you," I say in an inner voice that sounds so much calmer than my wracking nerves. So I never got to Rome, but my other friend and I made it to Paris and Versailles, where my literary yet historical characters came to life before me. I felt Marie-Therese’s spirit walking with me in her gardens, and I packed six years of research in my carry on. Rome has gone back on the list for my honeymoon, where it originally was. I will behold the Vatican with The Greatest Man I Haven’t Met Yet, or maybe next fall with the second greatest person in the world, Olivia Sielaff, whom hopefully I will visit when she studies in Austria next fall.

We had to cut Santiago de Compostella unless we weren’t planning on sleeping for a straight forty eight hours, and we are still trying to figure out how to do two continents (Europe and Africa) this coming weekend. Nuremberg was replaced by Frankfurt. But we still venture under the same moon, and we will still sleep beneath the same stars, no matter how far or how near we travel.

We almost missed our flight home from Scotland and sprinted to that gate as well, but it was because we were so wrapped in conversation. Or, oh yes, hiking those twelve kilometers to the Cliffs of Moher because we didn’t know twelve kilometers is translated as DEATH in Gaelic, but that hike is one of my favorite memories of our trip. And Emily and I were upset because we couldn’t get to the Flogging Molly concert in London on Friday night, but then God showed us the "Wicked" advertisement eight hours before the curtain went up. There were three tickets left. There were three of us. And they cost thirty-three pounds.

And we still have three countries yet, all with languages longing to trip us, but again, if the above incidents haven’t helped me to trust God more fully, nothing will. Things happen for a reason.

So Switchfoot sings, "I close my eyes and go back in time. I can see you’re smiling, you’re so alive. We were so young and we had no fear. We were so young, we had no idea. That life was just happening." Switch all those past tenses with present and you’ve got my life in five lyrics or less.

*Over the course of this article, I’ve eaten two peanut butter sandwiches. Family: fourteen days until I run home to you, the most beautiful place on this earth! Life is just happening.

Read other articles by Caroline Shields