What is Needed
Things are smaller here, slower.
Doorways dwarfed in ivy, half pints of beer, tiny cups of espresso, individual sized tea pots. Voices are quieter and rarely crescendo beyond a low murmur. Unbroken quiet is normal, and I’m self-conscious about being a loud American. Bursts of noise seem awkward and out of place while prolonged silences are steady and comfortable.
To me, this is welcome. I’ve stepped out of the chaos and excess of America and into the world of hundreds of years ago. Except this isn’t hundreds of years ago. This is right now.
Of course it isn’t perfect––Oxford exchanges glitz and hustle for pretension and tradition––but it’s lovely. Bicycles are everywhere. No one is exceptionally beautiful, which is comforting in a conceited way. I fade into the charmingly disheveled crowd of flat shoes and cigarette smoke. I still love this place. I love its people and its ancient buildings and its alleys that I thought only existed in Harry Potter. I’ve already started thinking in a British accent, I can’t help it. It’s so natural to want to speak like everyone else.
Observation is a daily past time, and I’m savoring the details: thatched roofs, cottage gardens climbing up the wall, tiny cars parked on postage stamps. I think of America, and it all feels so new. So excessive. So obsessed with power and freedom and manifest destiny. People’s lives in England seem simpler and quieter. I like it. The most chaotic thing is the traffic. Double decker buses, cars, bikes, and pedestrians criss cross in the narrow streets, always moving. I’ve almost been hit, more than once, by a snarling bus barreling down High Street six inches from the sidewalk. A tiny lane hugs the side of the road that I thought it was the bike lane, but it’s the bus lane. That’s the thing here–you only take up as much space as you need and no more.
And that may be exactly what I’m learning now––what is needed. All my life I’ve lived in excess, and I’m more aware of that now than ever before. I’ve been to an all you can eat buffet, I own dozens of shoes and more clothes than I can wear, a restaurant has served me enough dinner for five people and I’ve eaten it all. Sometimes excess is good: my parents’ sprawling backyard, long drives through Texas (no one can do anything about this), the books on my bookshelf (the quantity of which will only increase). Other times excess seems unfair and absurd––taking up space, unnecessary, un-missed when it’s gone. So here in England, it’s nice to see a small doorway, a modest rosebush, a teapot for a single person, a narrow lane that winds and bumps with uneven cobblestones.
I wonder, if I had grown up in Oxford and visited America, would I be fascinated with the screens and flashes of light, the car horns and the skyscrapers gleaming like modern monuments to wealth and progress? Perhaps. And perhaps these cobblestones would feel uncomfortable, the smokers would seem tacky, or the buses would be annoying. Maybe I wouldn’t notice them at all.
England is so old but it’s new to me. I want to walk through quiet streets and gardens and not say a word, I enjoy it more that way. I want to sit in a cafe, drinking tea and reading for an hour or two because that is the normal pace of life. I want to get off a village bus stop at dusk and hear sheep bleating and maybe nothing else but the bus rumbling away. There is something excessively charming and pastoral about the British countryside. Untouched by newness. Old and honest. It is what it’s always been. It may be tiresome to some people to live so traditionally, so old-world, but I love it. And part of me feels like I need it.
It’s my last day in Oxford, and I have this deep knowing that I’ll be back. I’ve never felt so at home and so myself in every way. I’ve cried and thrived and hurt and come back to life. I’ve struggled here; I’ve had my beliefs tested and my faith pushed. I’ve been lonely. But it’s all been for my good. I still have plenty of growing to do, but I’m not so afraid of the growing pains anymore. I’ve seen that God is stronger than my deepest doubts and more faithful than my skeptical heart. I’ve seen people seek God and find Him. I’ve seen Him give me the gift of belief when I ask Him. I’m embracing and celebrating that God does His best work in the darkness.
I have no clue what my life will look like in October and beyond, and the blank slate makes me giddy with excitement.