On Thursday afternoon, I began a new story.
The morning of my departure looked something like this.
Get on Airplane…
Fly to Chicago…
Wait in line passport in hand…
After months of dreaming, weeks or preparation, and hours of packing, I found myself in seat 25 F, staring out the window at the polluted night sky of Chicago, fidgeting with my oversized carry on, and coming to the swift realization that I was on my way to England.
As I waited for the plane to depart from the gate, I gazed at my new leather journal, and was filled with butterflies, and a thrill of what new thoughts, stories, friends, and convictions would fill its pages. What an unknown thing this semester and Oxford seemed. It was not in a frightening way, but in the same way an unread book is unknown, ready to be opened, read, laughed at…
I maintained these existential ponderings for a short time, but quickly returned to planet earth and struck by two observations.
- The time waiting for an airplane to depart to a long sought after destination inevitably feels like an eternity, and…
- It seemed as though I would have a row all to myself. While usually this prospect would excite me, I felt a little prick of desire for a flight partner…
As soon as this thought crossed my mind, I spied a latecomer making his way down the aisles. Prior to this airplane flight, I have often thought It would be so cool if I sat next to a rockstar/world-traveler/author I loved/etc. And as this individual walked down the aisle, I wondered if perhaps this was my moment. He had a British face with smile wrinkles, a perfectly rugged beard, peircing blue eyes, and a leather jacket. He had the style of Johnny cash, and the aura of a book reader. I kept waiting for him to sit down in one of the seats ahead of me (I was nearly in the back,) but lo and behold, he sat down next to me.
Malcolm was a canadian who happened to be a professor in England. He was a jolly and considerate seat mate, and we talked many of the long hours away on University life in England, academics, arts and culture, and the dullness and uselessness of texts books. In short, he was a good seat mate.
As the Atlantic slipped under the swift soaring belly of the plane, I fell into a happy (but swift) sleep, thinking what a wonderful adventure this was going to be. Before I knew it, the plane was flying over London and I could see Buckingham, and a host of resolute buildings and tidy looking parks. The plane descended, and like little herds of British sheep we shuffled out and queued up at customs.
I was shown where the terminal and bus station was, and when I emerged from the extremely long line at customs, I found my bags kindly piled and ready for me to go (due to the kindness of my seat mate.) I stepped out of the terminal and breathed in English air.
I had arrived!
But….. not quite. The next few hours involved a lot of awkwardly toting around three massive suitcases, missing busses, buying a mocha more of which I spilled than drank. But after a hustle, and bustle, and a nap on a bus, I found myself standing in the common room of my new home. New students stood around the room, eyeing eachother with looks that seemed to say “I wonder if we’ll be friends!”
I can hardly describe the days since my arrival on Friday except to say that they have been a wonderful and frenetic exercise in extroversion. The days have been spent in class rooms of orientation, innumerable introductions, and excursions of Oxfordian exploration–something everyone in my program is as eager to do as I am. Every pub is a novelty. Every statue is the best. As we have all adventured, and talked, and cooked food, I can already feel the warmness there will be as the semester carries on. as a bookish person, it is so lovely to be around others who don’t see my interests as an anomaly. After all, a love of ideas, stories, and good thoughts it what has drawn us all together. Though the group is diverse, with many different stories, we are all this moment sharing one story together and it is delightful.
On Sunday, I woke early and took tea in a cathedral cafe. As I sat journaling, sipping, and enjoying, I thought to myself This is just how I imagined a day in Oxford! It was early, and I have noticed that Oxford seems to be very quiet in the early mornings and late nights. Only pigeons made noise around me as I gazed at the dreaming spire above me. The pigeons hopped and cooed from the statues of popes to philosophers, and I laughed.
Pigeons are no respecter of men.
And so, my adventure has begun. I’ve thought about stories a lot since I’ve been here. I am going to be studying some of my favorite stories in my time here, and what impact they have had on the world. As I walk through the history worn streets of Oxford, I feel stories sing to me from the trees and gargoyles. There is a sense of continuation and narration, and I feel that I am a part of it. It reminds me of The Story, I hold to be true. As I walk the old paths, I see the wind blow the yellowing leaves off the trees, and I feel the Holy Spirit guiding me and everyone else in this lovely city to the wonderful rhythm of the Divine story.
Off to read the overwhelming pile of books and make a grilled cheese.