Journaling has been a habit since my one-digit years; a release through my adolescent years, and an expression through my maturing years. It is now a personal art form as well as a necessity. I knew I needed to write everyday when I chose to move across seas to Oxford. So much change would happen. So much uncertainty, and so many feels. I am naturally an analytical, observant, ponderous processor, I fascinate myself with my own reflections. These are some journal excerpts as I move to Oxford, England to work with Abilene Christian University as an assistant director for their study abroad program- the same program I did during my sophomore year of college. All I knew about my job was that I would be in charge of a weekly devotional and living with students. As I was song writing in Nashville before, I would continue to write in Oxford. This post simply shares experiences and reactions to my first month abroad: scene begins on my last day in America.
January 5, 2015, 5:47 PM Leather chair, Starbucks, Terminal A, Lambert Airport, St Louis, Missouri ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ Bob Dylan Sip. I have a hazelnut soy latte in hand, and I’m moving to Oxford. It’s a tradition to get Starbucks as I wait for my adventures. This joe seems extra good tonight. Sip. Last time I was here, it was upon my return from TX. It was my last goodbye to Abilene. It was my last goodbye to ACU and the people in it. It was my first professional piano gig. It was the first time I met Condoleezza Rice. Returning from Summit in TX. Sip. Before that, let’s not forget Tanzania. Before that, let’s not forget Zimbabwe. Sip. I’ve had a fist full of trips start and finish here. This airport sets the mood for my experience. For my feelings about going. For my thoughts about staying. For my dreams about living. For my hopes about flying. For my fears about returning. This airport. Change, change, change. Sip. But always the same terminal. The same Starbucks, on the left hand side. The same routine of waiting. The same routine of boarding. The same routine of landing in a new adventure. Landing on a new adventure. Sip. I finish my latte. Here we go.
January 7 [Oxford]
I’ve got many lists running about things I need, what to rearrange, what to do. Trying to take in the quiet empty house before it won’t be quiet for a long, long time. Trying to take in being here. Trying to take in that this is my job. Trying to take in being alone and on my own. Trying to take in what I will do for devotion.
I’m trying. What will 6 months do to me, Lord?
WENT OUT INTO THE WORLD OF OXFORD.
1) I was definitely alone. It was strange to remember all of this as I passed it, but not be with anyone. I had no one to share the simple act of walking with, new or old. I definitely enjoy this time of aloneness, of exploration in the city and in my mind. But it is an odd feeling, all the same. Yesteryears gone by.
2) I actually expected Oxfordians to be more sociable than they are. I had apparently forgotten. But people don’t make eye contact- which I constantly do to every single person I pass- and they don’t say hi or even smile. I miss that! I realized after living in Texas and Tennessee, it became natural and welcome. Not so welcome here. But I’ll do it anyway, as it suits my fancy.
I guess I bring it up because in general, it makes me feel less connected to the people, the city, the culture. I always plant myself in a culture and play out in my head if I could belong here or not. This more formal attitude is something I’m not really fond of.
I go from loving this empty house to hating it to loving it. I already think, “Hey I don’t have friends, I need friends.” But then I realize I’ve been here two days and I can’t just pop them out of nowhere.
January 14 [day before everyone arrives]
Taking in the house and environment before all the students arrive and it changes for good. It is about to come quickly and go quickly. I don’t think I’m prepared, but I don’t think there is a way to prepare for it.
Spent the rest of the night reading Daily Info, Oxford and planning my life away. Where has music been in my life these past couple of days!? No good.
David was the YWAM elder when I was here before. I went up to the altar to receive prayer four years ago. I found out I would be spending the summer in Zimbabwe, and I felt a pull on my heart for it, and for my future involving foreign missions. He prayed over me and spoke words into me. I remember that night, and writing down his words in my journal (“Get God’s word and write it on your heart.”). I needed that encouragement to have hope and find courage. It really did make a difference.
Anyway, here I was, four years later, standing in front of this same man and telling him what he did for me. He immediately remembered and said, “Well! You’re here and not in Africa,” asking what happened. I said in a whirlwind I went to Zim, to Tanzania the next summer, moved to Nashville, then for some reason came here. I didn’t know what was happening. Or why I wasn’t permanently in Africa. I said it was strange to be back and relive that. To wonder why I was indeed here, and if maybe I had done something wrong by not staying in Africa. I told him all I could do was be open. He told me he saw me as a door, an open door, and I let people pass through me. He said that as if it was a good thing, though I don’t know exactly what it means. “Being an open door for people to pass through.”
But here I was again, receiving words and images from him. This man who has played a seemingly miniscule, but in fact very influential, part in my life.
Today was literally filled with walking. Group walk through Port Meadow to The Church by The Perch, The Godstow Abbey, and The Trout Inn. Frost was everywhere in the most magical way.
I hear the students from outside my kitchen door, Jealous, by Nick Jonas is playing… everyone went to sleep, I started writing a song, “Hurry now…” before bed.
January 24 [market day]
…Through North Parade Farmer’s Market first, trying lavender chocolate, asking about gluten free bread, talking with Johan and getting a free piece of Turkish delight, pictures of fresh crab and meat pies. It was a cute setting and cheery day. Then walked on through Jericho…went around a corner to a Jericho mini market. Spent a while at a secondhand bookstore off Walton Street, loving over the old covers, wanting to buy every one. Continued on, pass University Press, getting colder, getting to Gloucester Green Giant Market. Never been to a Saturday one, but it would be a nice habit to start. No produce this time (only cheese and meats) but artisan craft tables. Pottery and clothes and china, etc. LOVE LOVE LOVE markets. The atmosphere of a local market. I don’t know why I love pedestrian areas so much, when people are all together, markets, downtowns… head to Covered Market to find a slight reprieve from the cold, and continue wondering past the produce, past the cafes, the thai shops, Ben’s Cookies, Moo Moo Milkshakes (with outrageous ques), looking through windows at The Cake Shop, going inside to admire the art and the artist, fondant featurettes.
Again, the hustle bustle, the getting to know a city, the discovering deeper into details of the city, the specific shops, the streets, the eats.
Wow, I left America twenty days ago. I can’t decide if that seems like forever or like a quick snap…the first activity of the day was attending a poetry reading at The Ashmolean on William Blake, for there is a festival going on in his honor these two weeks. That seemed like a very Oxford-esque thing, so I walked happily down there, chatted with the front desk, then snuck down the stairs to sit on a bench outside the circle of readers/literary fanatics, led by an older woman who spoke with a passionate voice. Someone gave me a grain of sand, as we all held the grain in our palm to think about Blake’s words “ To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.”
Something spellbinding about surrounding oneself with other humans eager and curious to learn, to delve into another world, whether that of literature, music, art. Oxford breeds this type of people.