At age 40, after a series of traumatic events, including a nasty divorce and the suffocating, regretful grief of his father’s death, Ed Jopling MALS ’09 found himself in Ireland. To get there, he divested everything he had, quit his lucrative job, and bought a one-way ticket to Galway for an unexpected spiritual transformation.
In his master’s thesis, “The Guinness Sutra,” Ed Jopling writes, “Deeper we rode into the Connemara. My excitement was growing with a tingle in my stomach and I felt closeness different than any I had felt before … Connemara, this was where my old ones dwelled, where my father’s spirit no doubt had gone in his passing … I was going home to them."
An improbable traveler
Born on Saint Paul’s east side into a blue-collar family, Jopling quietly excelled in school. After graduating from Irondale High School in New Brighton, he considered college, but “nobody from my family had an education beyond high school,” he says.
Societal pressures got the best of him and, foregoing college, he found work as a mechanic. He eventually became a technician at a wastewater treatment plant in Saint Paul, a job he would hold for more than 20 years and one that would afford him a large home in the suburbs, a Corvette, and vacations to Europe and elsewhere abroad.
About a year into his wastewater treatment job, he got the urge to go to college. “Then a really bad thing happened,” says Jopling. “I met my first wife.”
His tumultuous marriage would last 15 years before divorce. During the final, painful years of his marriage, Jopling’s father died—a loss that filled him with the regret of the unsaid and time not spent. It was then that Jopling began to look for something more meaningful in his life.
A new chapter
First, he completed a bachelor’s degree in writing and communications at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul. But that wasn’t enough. It was a visit to Albuquerque, New Mexico, investigating a master’s degree program and staying at a hostel on historic Route 66 that led him to Ireland.
“I started thinking about my dad and different things came back to me,” he says. “Then I had this weird feeling—I suddenly knew what I had to do. It was like Galway was calling me.”
While Jopling’s family claims a 100-plus-year history in Saint Paul, Galway is the Jopling family ancestral home. Jopling’s father would spin tales about how their family was one of the founding tribes of Galway and the Connemara region of Ireland.
Jopling sold everything he could, boarded a plane, and rented a room in an old house just a few blocks from Galway Bay.
Into the fog
“Here I am, sitting on the floor with a peat fire burning in this cold house and I’m thinking ‘what have I done?’” says Jopling. “Rather than feeling mystical, I was pretty darn lonely, sad, and depressed.”
His spirit eventually warmed and Jopling began meeting people—even dating—and traveling. His most transformative moment, he says, was meeting an old man named Peadar at pub in the Connemara, a rugged region northwest of Galway. Unexpectedly, Peadar took Jopling on a journey in his old, red truck around the backcountry of the foggy Connemara.
Jopling writes, “It was like I had chewed peyote with a shaman and was now traversing some spirit realm … ‘Aye, ya feel it now do ya not?’ Peadar spoke softly. ‘Do ya remember now? You belonged to the Connemara once, long ago. Ya wouldn’t be here if she didn’t invite ya home.’”
“It was suddenly like I was talking to my own father,” says Jopling. “I didn’t tell him anything about myself, but he knew what I was there for. It was the most wonderful and amazing thing.”
Jopling writes, “Peadar had been the spirit guide Virgil to my Dante, leading me along to my epiphany. I felt I had reached the turning point in my quest and no longer sought answers; rather, I began to let it come to me and I merely accepted.”
After four months in Galway, Jopling’s visa ran out and he reluctantly returned home. “I didn’t want to leave, but it was meant that way,” says Jopling. “I was supposed to go to Ireland, have my experiences and then it sent me home.”
Jopling returned to Saint Paul and took a job supervising immigrant workers in a factory. After a few years, he bought a house on Saint Paul’s east side and got a job with the State of Minnesota working with Minnesota Care. He completed Hamline’s master’s in liberal studies program in 2009. He also is happily married to his second wife, Susan.
Now 51, Jopling describes himself as “profoundly different.” “I spent the first 40 years of life acquiring stuff and was more concerned with how I was supposed to live,” he says. “After Galway, I started viewing life more as—it just comes to us. I stopped struggling with life, stopped worrying about it.”
He hesitates in giving advice to anyone, but does say “don’t swallow everything everybody tells you because they are in authority. Believe and trust in your own self.”