My friend, May, inspired me to write up the past year in my life, its patterns and paths and potholes. I’ll divide it up into seasons, because I love seasons and love the predictable backdrop they provide to my less predictable life. And because that’s what Rory and Lorelai did.
On New Year’s Day last year, I took a red eye to London, flying over my last few hours of the first day of 2016. I was not eager to study abroad and only signed up because I felt obligated to my future self to travel when I could. I had slogged through the paperwork and seriously considered dropping the whole endeavor when my number one choice school rejected me. I would have to go to my backup, Queen Mary University of London, on the city’s eastern edge. And to think I almost hadn’t applied to a backup.
London was cold but bright. On the second day, my new Californian friend Andy and I ran down Tottenham Court Road, past the West End (Broadway) signs and the lingering Christmas lights, through the hazy Hyde Park. We weaved in and among the tourists, proud that we were no longer of their number, temporary Londoners we were. Lucy arrived a week later, and we found home in All Souls Church. A few evenings a week, I climbed out of the Oxford Circus Underground station and stepped into the noisy, crowded, commercial street. Head down, hands in pockets, I cut a path through the crowd, crossed the lanes, turned the corner, and there it was: All Souls, with its tall steeple, lit and glorious. All Souls for me was a picture of the Church Universal.
Back at Queen Mary, I shuffled to classes in my moccasins and shuffled back to the comforting tininess of my little flat room. Maddie and I jogged through the regal Regent’s Park on Saturdays. Janelle and I sipped caramel tea at Yumchaa several times. My wise mentor Rachel walked me through Exodus, both the chapter in the Bible and the phase of my life then. On lonely nights I hopped on the tube and headed to Lucy’s flat, where we cooked vegetable stir fries and eggs for dinner.
London was a breath of air, the space I needed. I loved the quiet green parks and running the bridges over the Thames. I loved the coziness of the pubs and how trendy I felt sipping chardonnay at a wine bar. I loved reading Jane Austen’s Emma on the tube and the grilled halloumi samples Camden Market.
Though spring technically began in March, it didn’t feel like it. To me, spring means warm sunlight and no coats. In London I wore a jacket up until my last day, June 11th. Lucy and I traveled, starting in Prague and swinging through Eastern Europe. From Croatia we boarded a miserable overnight ferry and then forgot all about it as Italy’s charm swept us up. I fell in love with the rhythm of life in Florence, the music on street corners and the open air sandwich shops. Florence gave me the feeling that we had happened upon a real-life fairytale. I loved the bouncy shiny curls in my hair after my trip to the salon, the ripe tomatoes in our sandwiches, the warm toasty reverence for carbohydrates.
I had planned to fall for Paris, the city of light and love and fashion. But my heart remembers Florence. A takeaway of spring was to love what I really love, not what I want to love.
Summer was a fruitful season of growing and leaping, humbling and asking. I moved to Durham, the very last city I wanted to be in, and found that at the center of all those fears was only that—fear. Summer saw the answer to prayers I didn’t think I would live to see, afternoons at Guglhupf, visits to the study center, grilled salmon, and centering prayer.
In light of summer’s many blessings, it’s easy to forget the longing and loneliness that were there, too. I spent hours driving up and down the interstate and wandering Duke Gardens. Once while I was circling the paths, a terrific thunder and lightning storm hit, so I hid beneath a little wooden shelter to wait. I think that’s a good image of my summer’s story: pressed into a small scary space, challenged to face old fears and regrets, only to find my Savior already had. And all the while, the rain rejuvenated the earth all around me.
And finally, fall was blurry. It felt like a thick grey fog drifted in and shrouded my summer’s light. As all seniors do, I started to face “the future,” my future, the one I felt unprepared and unmotivated for. God often unfolds good things slowly, but I was impatient, anxious, and afraid. So I reached for one thing I thought I could control: my weight. By the end of fall, it was out my hands. How grateful I am that this was never out of His. And I’m grateful for the hands of my dear friends and family holding mine.
A bright spot was rediscovering my love and affinity for writing in Dr. Lewis’s creative nonfiction class. We wrote five pieces, three of which I read aloud to my classmates for feedback. I felt like I was going to cry or vomit or shrivel up from overexposure, because my essays were deeply personal things. My essays compared to those of my classmates were like the person who sits down at the lunch table, interrupts the conversation about the Gilmore girls revival, and starts gabbing about Immanuel Kant or job applications or something. Too much. Overwhelming. But each time, my classmates affirmed the rawness and realness of my work. They reminded me of the value of vulnerability and the danger of secrecy.
This thought is propelling me into 2017 with an open heart and hands and mind, ready to receive, ready to give.