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Four Years at the Mount

Sophomore year

We Are Once in a Lifetime

Carolyn Shields

(10/2011) I leaned back in my airplane chair after a cruddy nap as the lights of Dublin stood out in the 4 a.m sky. "Okay, I can do this. Ha-ha, holy cow, I can do thisÖ" A few hours earlier, somewhere over the Atlantic, I paused in reading the money section of Rick Stevesí European travel book for the hundredth time and could half feel all the prayers from back home accompanying me. Hours before that I was kissing my parents goodbye in the airport, giddy with excitement. The night before I felt ridiculously nauseated. One week before I was being splattered by my friendís car, stuck in mud. A month ago? Booking hotels like no other. This past summer? Working for those euros. Last year trying not to fall asleep in my classÖ

Isnít it funny how every moment of our lives adds up to something? Iím lying here on my bunk bed in my apartment in Dublin, and Iím thinking Iíve worked so hard to get here. Itís all added up to this. But what will THIS add up to? Becoming the woman God made me to be? Finding true love in the Scottish highlands? Navigating a Parisian train station without a chaperone? Or simply being able to feed myself? (Added next day: I ate an apple with peanut butter for dinner).

So we have right now. We have choices. Mine brought me to Dublin, to this beautiful city with its parks where flowers are still in full bloom and where children take their first careful steps in Merrion Square. Where Celtic music is heard all down Grafton Street and where hair dryers have a tendency to blow fuses. And these next three articles will take you here tooÖ

It was about 6 a.m when Emily and I got to our apartment. Itís right off Grafton Street, and anyone who knows anything about Dublin knows that Grafton is Irelandís busiest high-fashion street. We stood on our terrace and squealed like girls, jumping up and down. "Weíre in Ireland! Weíre in Ireland!"

Fast forward three hours when Emily was zonked out on the bed and I was sprawled like a noodle on the couch. That afternoon we walked through Grafton Street, avoiding the throngs of people the best we could, trying to absorb everythingÖthe mannequins displaying European fashions behind sheets of glass, the street vendors selling bouquets of flowers, the crazy rush of a city in generalÖThe last 48 hours was a blurred whirlwind of action.

David, Emily, and I sighed in relief while walking through St. Stephenís Park. Crisp yellow leaves were on the ground, and resting on a park bench we watched two swans duck beneath the clear surface of the lake. The Irish "walk fast, talk fast, and drink fast" but every other aspect of their life is slower paced, like the couples strolling beneath the hundred-year-old trees at St. Stephenís or the three old men drinking Guinness at the Dukeís, the first pub we went to.

Itís crazy to think we can conquer Dublin in just three months. Add Ireland on to that. Oh, and Edinborough, London, Vienna, Brussels, and, you know, ParisÖBut already my horizons are broadening with only 48 hours on Carolynís Becoming Culturally and Financially Aware of Her Milieus Timetable. Such as? Grocery shopping for myself for the first time in a place where the dollar sign isnít on any no recognizable brand of chips, excuse me, "crisps." Itís "grand," as in fine, but not "savage" (or great) like I thought it would be. I still want to shop for a "jumper" though(I mean sweater). This slang isnít much "crack," as in fun, when we can barely handle the accents.

But conquer it we will! First the slang, then this city with its crazy streets and drivers, then Europe. Also the world. Might as well think big.

But reality is kicking us already. Ha-ha, that grocery trip really got to us I guess. So David, Emily, and I got together this afternoon to talk money.

"Looks like peanut butter and jelly for the next three months," Emily said.

"After OíNeills tonight," I said from the couch, computer on my lap and our Excel budget sheet pulled up. "Gotta have a Guinness."

"And are we still on for the opera in Vienna?" David asked.

Ha-ha, so. This life is grand, and I mean "grand" in the non-Irish sense. I still go through each day wondering why God gave it to me. Kind of like how Michael says "Why me?" in "Princess Diaries," but he says it because he found a princess. My goal in life is to pray like itís a drug. Godís three answers to our prayers are, "Yes," "Not yet," and "I have something better in mind." And, yes, I stole that off of the internet, but itís worth sharing. I can easily find myself awed by Godís beauty, but I donít always thank him for sharing it, so I really do not know why I have been given this life. Two hours ago I was in a pub drinking Guinness (ok, okÖmore like sipping it), sheltered by wooden walls with stained glass windows. Itís hard to imagine that life gets any more beautiful.

Before I left, I was telling my friend how Iím worried about leaving because my life canít really get any more beautiful, and I felt like leaving for Ireland would only keep my life the same or make it less great. And look! Here I am, sitting on my bunk bed, still laughing with Emily about that random Irish man we met on the street who talked to us for AN HOUR AND A HALF. They werenít kidding about the Irish telling stories. Talk about details. Down to the euro his cousin paid for a lampshade.

Switchfoot sings, "Breathe it in. The highs and lows. We call it livingÖThere are miracles there in your eyes. Itís no accident weíre here tonight. We are once in a lifetime."

Read other articles by Caroline Shields