Day 19: Pentecost
I receive communion from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The bread and wine are sweet as if to counteract the bitterness I’ve felt toward God for some time now.
A man on the street sings a strange rendition of “Hallelujah” and rails about the heartless passersby who won’t even stop to smile at him.
In the crypt and the gardens surrounding the cathedral, I feel the heavy, heavy weight of God’s presence without being able to react to it. I can’t see Him. I can’t hear Him. I know He’s there but somehow this isn’t comforting to me.
We arrive in foggy London that evening and I have a panic attack at 11:30.
I long for renewal even as I tire of fighting.
Day 20: Cold and Wet
The little ones keep asking whether or not the museum artifacts are real. I evade the question “Why didn’t they want them anymore?”
I’m reminded that a world exists outside the dark one in my head, and walking through the rainy streets as M trustingly holds my hand fills my heart with peace. Her sweet innocence restores me, however temporarily. Caring for her takes my attention off of myself, cutting across the spiral of despair. I lift her little umbrella over both of us and find a smile stuck to my face as I explore the museum with her. She’s resilient, curious, and hilarious.
I spend thirteen pounds on an umbrella which is far too expensive but I have no regrets.
My passport is a little crinkly around the edges now.
Day 21: Stone, Glass, and Paint
There’s an American man visiting the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey who doesn’t know who either Jane Austen or Shakespeare is. That makes me want to cry more than the awe of seeing memorials to some of my favorite writers all in one place. Why don’t we care more about art?
I walk around the Tate Britain aware of every security guard’s eyes boring into my soul. Sometimes I wish I didn’t look the way I do as I scurry far away from certain tourist groups. There’s all this talk about “fitting in,” but my face will never “fit in” anywhere even if my heart does.
There is so much to see and no time to write it down.
The painting of the Tenth Plague makes me want to cry.
Day 22: Movement
How is it that history is always more interesting than the past? These Greco-Roman statues, crumbling in our museums, stand as a tribute to the way things used to be and a part of me wishes I could have been there, back in the days when art was one of the most highly valued things about this world, right up there with religion and family. Now, if you want to be an artist of any kind, you’re accused of dreaming.
Jared finds a bookshop in the basement of a building near our hotel. There’s an old, old copy of Charles Lamb’s “Essays of Elia and Eliana.” I don’t buy it because it’s seven pounds and I probably will never read it. I’m still thinking about it. Maybe I should go back and hope to goodness it’s still there.
I get to see “Wicked” on West End and it’s my first encounter with live theater so naturally I have chills the entire time, even during the confused hubbub of intermission. I cry during “I’m Not That Girl.” I really should have bought a program, but at least I have my ticket and the stars lingering in my eyes.
Day 23: Filled, Slowly
Our first stop is Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. I don’t have the patience to wait in line, which may only be because I read the series after I graduated high school so, alas, it did not have any impact on my childhood.
We walk into the Treasures of the British Library and I’m not sure I’m still breathing. I almost cry when I see the old handwritten and hand-decorated Bibles from a thousand years ago. There are first folios, Jane Austen’s writing desk, Sylvia Plath’s journal and original handwritten draft of her poem “Insomniac,” and the Magna Carta.
A snippet from the journal:
“I’m still struggling to respond to anything, but for a moment I stood in awe, however fleeting. Maybe it’s okay that words keep failing me. Maybe it’s okay to sit and receive without doing anything in return.
“Maybe that’s all I’m supposed to be. Filled. Yet the numb emptiness pervades every corner of my existence and I don’t know how to receive these things. It seems they’re placed in my open hands only to fall out again.
“I still don’t feel emotionally present, and I’m still anxious and a little disembodied (last night I was sitting on my bed talking to Maddie and I physically felt the room move away from me, or me from it), but I think God poked a tiny hole in the black cloud of despair I’m stuck with, and maybe that’s supposed to be encouraging. Maybe it’s better to catch fleeting glimpses than no glimpses at all?”
Day 24: Quaint
Today is a free day which I choose to spend exploring bookstores around London with fellow book-loving friends.
Bookshops open at 10:30am. We arrive at our first stop around 10:28am and there’s a short queue of well-dressed Brits patiently waiting for the door to open. Enchanting. Imagine any layperson in America waiting for a bookstore to open. Can’t? That’s what I thought.
I stumble upon a lovely old copy of “Sense and Sensibility” in Henry Pordes on Charing Cross Rd, but I don’t fall in love with it no matter how hard I try, so I put it back and keep my twenty pounds. I will try again in Oxford.
Later in the afternoon I order a mocha and sit in the window of a lovely cafe. Here are some of the thoughts that ran through my mind as I listened to moody music and sipped my coffee.
A pigeon just walked past with only one foot. The poor fellow.
Some men are pinning pink and green pennants all the way down Lamb’s Conduit Street. I wish I knew why.
I’m so glad I bought a pair of black jeans before we left.
I don’t understand why I didn’t like these shoes in high school. They’re amazing and I want to wear them all the time.
I’m thankful for friends with whom I can share comfortable, chummy silence.
I’m starting to feel more complex emotions again, more than “sad” or “numb.” It scares me a little because I can’t remember how to deal with them, but I’m glad. The fog is starting to clear.
I miss home. I don’t want to leave here.
There’s a grandmother wearing grey joggers and smoking a cigarette. I’m finally in a place where I can write “grey” and not be judged for it.
“There’s No Way” by Lauv seems to haunt me whether I’m in the States or here in England.
A young lady is helping her grandmother walk down the sidewalk.
There’s a group of young people across the street carrying what appear to be very heavy boxes. I wonder what’s inside.