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  • Kelly Finlaw

Corrymeela and Dr. Nick: A Hopeful Place

Kelly, BuildaBridge Restorative Artist and board member has been in Northern Ireland for the past few weeks conducting workshops on conflict in collaboration with our sister organization, Beyond Skin. Here she tells us of a transformative experience in Corrymeela, the oldest center for peace in Ireland.
This piece was originally published on

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the privilege of knowing someone that operates on an unwavering frequency or not, but I’ve had a few encounters with such people.

My mom had a freak accident in January of 2015. If you live in the tri-state area, you probably remember the ice storm that covered us in a sheet of black ice on a frigid Sunday morning in January.

My mom was late to work and ran to her car. She didn’t make it.

I’ll never forget that phone call. Her voice was scared and I could hear the pain. “I broke my arm. Kelly, I broke my arm.”

She called me before she called 911, worried about how she would pay for her inevitable medical bills.

The phone call woke me up and I was disoriented, but tried to gauge the situational quickly as possible.

“How do you know you broke your arm? Where are you? What happened.”

“I see both of my bones. I’m on the sidewalk. I fell.”

Fear covered my body.

Within minutes, I slid to the train station, then to Penn Station, then to the hospital where she eventually ended up.

The ice kept an ambulance from getting to her and she spent over two hours in a neighbor’s car trying to navigate her way to professional help.

Her eyes were closed when I found her in the hospital bed. Mine were filled with tears.

I touched her face and my voice quivered as I said, “It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok. You’re going to be ok.”

The next 6 months, or more realistically, the next year, was one of the scariest of my life.

She wasn’t ok. She wasn’t ok for a long, long time.

She moved in with me, sharing my New York apartment with my roommate and me. She lived with us for 6 months, staying alone all day while I was at work, sleeping in my bed, struggling through the pain and fear.

It wasn’t just a broken arm. It was whiplash, dislocated ribs, and a dislocated shoulder.

We didn’t know all of that until much later.

The doctor in the ER didn’t set her arm properly and didn’t diagnose her other injuries.

She lived with all of that until late March, when her pain became intolerable and she had to seek alternative help.

That’s when Nick Carruthers entered our lives. That’s when everything changed.

We found our way to his office when we were both at our lowest points.

I was trying so hard to take care of my mom, while still giving all of myself to teaching.

My mom was trying so hard to be brave, but was in so much pain that she couldn’t function.

We were a collective mess.

After Dr. Nick’s initial intake, he gave us his diagnosis. He told us that her arm hadn’t had the chance to heal because it wasn’t properly aligned. He told us that he could help us.

He was calm, assuring, gentle, and direct.

He didn’t react to the fact that I was sprawled out on a chair in his office, physically unable to keep myself up. I brought my real self to him. He brought his real self to the situation.

He didn’t coddle. He didn’t soothe. He didn’t react.

He responded.

Cool and collected.

That’s Nick. He sets the tone in every room, regardless of the climate.

Over time, my mom regained the use of her arm. It was slow, as healing typically is, but we were seeing progress for the first time.

After 6 months of living together, my mom eventually moved back to her NJ apartment. She still couldn’t button her pants or brush her hair, but she was stable enough to live on her own again.

That was one of the hardest times of my life. Even thinking about it now brings back a rush of fear, exhaustion, and sadness.

I think about what would have happened if we wouldn’t have found Dr. Nick.

I don’t know.

It’s a terrifying thought to consider.

Obviously, his medical expertise was a massive part of her healing. It was more than that, though.

It was the essence of who he was that brought both of us to a hopeful place.

I don’t know if you know anyone that has done that for you. I don’t know if you know anyone that has brought peace to your life with their mere presence.

I’ve had the privilege a few times.

I had the privilege again yesterday.

I was on the tail end of a trip from Rathlin Island where Beyond Skin and BuildaBridge had been conducting art workshops on conflict.

We had a tour of Corrymeela, the oldest center for peace in Ireland, planned for the afternoon.

I wasn’t thrilled about it.

I don’t like tours. I like wandering about on my own.

Then it happened. My soul experienced an immediate resonance with our tour guide, with the center as a whole.

She walked us around, telling us about how the center was started, how it’s been utilized in the past and present, how it’s run by volunteers, how it’s ecumenical, how it’s meant to be a respite for all.

She spoke of the history, of the mission, of the founders, of how it is a place of peace for all people. But really, beyond her words, she embodied those ideals.

She was gentle, sincere, and loving. She was Corrymeela.

It soon became quite clear that everyone there was Corrymeela.


This little oasis in the center of a conflict-ridden country was meant to offer hope to anyone that needed it. In doing so, it transformed the people on the premises with the idea being that if you can give people a place to be right with themselves and with the world, you can give people the tools that they need to be right outside of that place.

As she walked us around she said, “Corrymeela happens when you leave.”

Meaning, “You come here, heal yourself, and as a result, live a more aligned life when you leave.”

Corrymeela is Dr. Nick.

Nonreactive. Calm. Gentle. A respite. Embodied peace.

My soul resonates with that.

My anxious, overthinking, inner-turmoiled soul resonates with that.

I want my classroom to be that for my kids. I want my BuildaBridge classes to be that around the world. I want to be that when I’m walking home after a long day of work.

Centered. Whole. Deliberate.

Deliberateness in every detail of life.

Meaning in every detail.

Spending the day at Corrymeela reminded me of how just a little time in a place, or even with a person, can transform you.

I was moved. Deeply.

I want to be that force, too. Like Corrymeela. Like Dr. Nick.

Corrymeela happens when you leave.

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