Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Day I Met The President

It's not every Tuesday I get invited to Áras an Uachtaráin, so in the lead up to yesterday's reception with President Higgins, I was pretty excited.

The night before, I planned my schedule with military precision. I hung out my dress, I cleaned my blazer, I laid out my Nancy Reagan pearls and put my passport in my handbag. Settling down with a bacon bagel and new Game of Thrones, all felt calm in the realm. 

Then I woke up. Half-asleep, I spilled coffee granules as I attempted to brew caffeine goodness to fire my brain. I laddered my tights as I was putting them on. I smudged my mascara, my hair would not sit right and I got make-up on the collar of my dress. 

My friend text me to see how I was faring. "I look like a boy. And if I didn't have such freakish body proportions, my new dress wouldn't be loose at the waist while still managing to give me a Kim Kardashian arse." 

I scuttled off the bus to make my way to Reach Out HQ for a debrief meeting about our first Change Your Mind program last Wednesday. The Dublin skies hung heavy and grey as I crossed my fingers that it wouldn't rain (naturally, I had no proper jacket on or umbrella in my handbag). My luck held out on that one. 

Between odd, cryptic text messages (Today, of ALL days, I muttered darkly to myself) and strange behavior of certain people, by the time I began to make my way to Stephen's Green Hotel, the height of my aspirations sat at "don't break your heel before you meet the President". 

Thankfully, the luck of the Irish was with the various alumni of the Washington Ireland Program as we gathered at the hotel to make our way to the Phoenix Park. 

The enormity of the occasion did not really register with me until I stood in front of our very own White House. A thin mist milled around the old trees and lush grass, along with some cows; which I was quite surprised to see. Who knew there were such things as Presidential cows?

Soon after we made our way into the building, we waited to be individually announced to President Higgins and his wife, Sabina. As I heard "Vicky Kavanagh, Class of 2011", I focused my energies on not falling over my own two feet as I was greeted by Mr and Mrs Higgins. 

A couple of things to note about Áras; it's physically warmer than most diplomatic residences I've been in; the staff are unbelievably friendly, and they provide the best finger-food ever. President Higgins gave a speech commemorating the program which I am very proud to be a part of, followed by Kevin Sullivan, former speech-writer for Obama and long-time associate of WIP. After this, the President mingled among us. 

In the most wonderful way, President Higgins is like a character from a Roald Dahl book. Soft-spoken, with a lilting accent, conversation flows from him like a familiar melody. Given the opportunity, there was only one question I could think to ask him: Is it true that him and Seamus Heaney once stayed up all night trying to think of a word in the English language to rhyme with orange?

It turns out that while Heaney did indeed do this, it was not with Higgins. However, I did illicit a promise from the President that if he ever thought of a word to rhyme with 'orange', he would let me know. On the way out, I made friends with two of the biggest dogs I've ever encountered in my life. 

Later that day, on the bus to my friend's house, I found myself shaking my head at the events of the previous few hours. A few "complicated" text messages later, I found myself perplexed by the strangeness of life. One minute you're getting your picture with the President, the next your on the 15 attempting to decipher the meaning of wordplay's. 

I fell into bed exhausted last night. Conversations and events swam in my head in crashing waves I could not contain. I tried to calm my mind. There are so many things happening at the moment and I've little to no idea as to how such things are going to unfold. As someone who likes to plan ahead (see beginning of this post), such uneven footing disturbs me. I cannot prepare myself for the outcome if I don't know what avenue it's going to take and I and I dislike leaving such things up to chance. I got lucky yesterday, crossing my fingers to avoid the rain. I need something more powerful than to cross my toes too, and hope I avert disaster. So far, the only option I can think of is to spend my Summer at a convent. 

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