One year ago today, that is, exactly three-hundred and sixty-six days ago (seeing as there were twenty-nine days in February this year), I set foot for the first time on European soil. This was in the Frankfurt airport, after a long flight through the night in which I did not sleep at all, and which I spent primarily in conversation with a nice German girl next to me who was bound for Dresden. Her brother was getting married, and as it turned out she was Catholic, we had a bit of a conversation on Catholic marriages for a while. It reminded me of Holden’s observation in Catcher in the Rye: “Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re a Catholic. It happens to me a lot, I know, partly because my last name is Irish, and most people of Irish descent are Catholics. As a matter of fact, my father was a Catholic once. He quit, though, when he married my mother. But Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re a Catholic even if they don’t know your last name.” As it turns out, I do this inadvertently all the time. Also, my last name is Irish.
But to return what I was actually talking about, it was on this date one year ago that I first arrived in Germany, and it is hard to describe exactly what that has been like for me. A great deal of it has been hard to get through, involving a massive struggle against self-pity. The problem with pity, though, is, that we tend to pity ourselves because we believe we have borne some great hardship which has gone unrecognized, and which we should like to be admired for. Unfortunately, pitying ourselves for this would forfeit our claim to respect, and really, I do recognize that this has been a great opportunity for me. In spite of the difficulties I sometimes am frustrated by, this past year has been far more than I ever thought it would be, and I have never once doubted the decision I made in coming.
One of the other unusual aspects of the past year is that for the first time since I was a little kid looking forward to Christmas, the passage of time has really seemed very slow. For the past several years, particularly during the school year, an entire month usually goes by before I am fully aware that it has begun. I believe this is largely due to each month lacking any discernible feature to set it apart from the rest. Once school starts, September is not much different from October, which is in its turn not much different from November. But this year, every month had its own set of unique characteristics. In May, I arrived. By June, I was in France, and in July, my family visited. Between these two events I began Tae Kwon Do, bought my camera, and began to explore some of the bike paths in the area. At the end of August we went to Berlin, and in September classes at the language school began. The days were noticeably shorty by October, which was therefore marked by little children and their paper lantern festival. In November I went to England. December was full of Weihnachtsfests galore, with visits from both Rora and Margaux. January was dull, although mostly warm and sunny. I spent most of it recovering from the Christmas excitement, and at the end we had a short Berlin reprise. February was my birthday, the finishing of language school, the start of Jakob’s Kindergarten experience, the beginning of Lent, and the end of my English. March was Easter, and the anticipation of my brother’s visit, whereas April was spent in reflections on that visit, buying my ticket home, finishing my online class, and starting work in the garden. And now it is May again, and it all seems so short somehow, even though I can account for so much of the time, and I’ve lived every bit, and none of it has gotten away from me.
Regardless, I consider my mission now accomplished. I wanted one year, and although I have two and a half weeks more before I head home, I feel like my main mission is accomplished. I survived one year, and on top of that, I learned to speak a foreign language, visited four major world capitals, worked out regularly, kept my prayer time, wrote tons, drew a fair amount, read more than a fair amount, and used up all my money on postage stamps. All together, I am pretty darn proud of what I’ve gotten done. It’s been a year, I’m ready to come home now. Just two weeks and four days to go.