Roll with the punches
S**t happens. S**t relentlessly and unapologetically happens.
Living in Ireland for the past four months, I’ve realized that not everything is always going to go your way. Sometimes the Vikings colonize your land. Sometimes the English religiously persecute your people. Sometimes ethno-nationalist conflict envelops your country for 40 years. Sometimes a Welshman pours your pint of Guinness and it’s extra foamy. But, if there is one thing that the Irish know how to do—other than how to make jokes at the Welsh people’s expense—it’s how to roll with the punches.
Like the boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward, who famously adopted the ethnically themed moniker for his resilience in the ring, I, too, was going to have to learn how to roll with the punches.
I was not even supposed to be here. I was supposed to study in Istanbul, but after a medley of terrorist attacks and a military coup (read as: “s**t happening”) in Turkey, my program was cancelled, and I had to scramble to find a university that would accept me for the fall semester. I found University College Dublin (UCD), but I still needed to secure living arrangements. After a game of email-response chicken with IFSA-Butler—a Duke-approved study abroad program which guaranteed my on-campus housing—it became official: I would be going to Ireland.
When I arrived in Ireland, cold and soggy, not unlike the signature Welsh dish of rarebit and laverbread, I was disappointed to find UCD a 30-minute bus ride from the city center. This was the first of many inconveniences that would plague me during my study abroad experience. I was served an overcooked cheeseburger in a pub in Dublin, rolled my ankle at Oktoberfest, lost my phone in Kilkenny, was homeless for a night in Barcelona, missed a portion of the Twelve Pubs of Christmas (a famed Irish tradition) because I took a final exam and didn’t study portions for a final exam because I took part in the Twelve Pubs of Christmas.
Compared to the hardships that the Irish have endured time and time again, this “s**t” was insignificant. But in order to succeed, I had to adopt the mindset that kept the Irish people moving forward when the British annexed their nation, Oliver Cromwell invaded and a blight infestation led to the period of mass starvation known as the potato famine. Rolling with the punches, I ate fries and scraps instead of the cheeseburger, hobbled over to a German medical tent, called the pub in Kilkenny from a friend’s phone, invited myself to crash on a friend’s couch after an evening of tapas and clubbing, drank six whiskies to catch up and caught up on studying when I should have been sleeping. Like the Irish boxers and “Irish,” the boxer himself, I had to be resilient.
When my father visited me in Dublin, he could not help but remark on the cheery disposition of every native we encountered. Despite the “smattering of misfortune,” as he so eloquently put it, “they always find time to grab a pint.” Every Irish person that I had met in class, the pubs or just walking the streets of Dublin was friendly and outgoing.
Even the middle-aged strangers that I had met at one pub—the Hairy Lemon—asked me to sit with them after seeing that I was wearing a Dublin county football jersey. They had no idea who I was or where I came from, but solely because of an affinity for their city, which I evidenced by sporting a powder blue jersey, they pulled up a chair. It was almost as if they were looking for an excuse to be friendly. These people, despite whatever else was going on in their lives—the countless inconveniences that we face everyday, which make us scratch our heads, palm our faces and clench our fists—dealt with it and pushed ahead. Further, they returned to an untroubled state. They rolled with the punches and countered with a left hook.
We all could learn a little bit from the Irish. Life is not always sunny days and walking distances; there will be inconveniences. Whether these inconveniences are trite or significant, it is important to remember: “s**t happens.” Sometimes King Henry VIII effectively makes your culture illegal. Sometimes civil war breaks out. Sometimes austerity measures are imposed. But no matter what happens, we must find a way to respond and move on. If the unavoidable annoyances that pervade everyday life begin to dictate our actions then “s**t” no longer happens…“s**t” controls. The Irish could have given up several times—they have had every reason to stop trying—but instead they have chosen to adjust and stay optimistic, a tradition that continues today.
I’m glad that I didn’t dwell on Istanbul for too long, even though I really had my heart set on it. I’m glad that the Irish taught me how to roll with the punches, and I’m glad to have avoided any pub brawls.
Jacob Weiss is a Trinity junior who studied abroad in Dublin. This is the final installment of his column, “ulysses.”