Day 25: Longing for a home
I wander off into the National Gallery, lost in music and beautiful art. Several paintings remind me of my mother: Renoir’s portrait of a woman reclining in a long chaise and cradling a sleeping puppy in her arms, Eugene Carriere’s “Winding Wool,” Elizabeth Louise Vigee le Brun’s “Self Portrait in a Straw Hat” with her warm glow and rosy hand outstretched to welcome a stranger or a friend. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve been. She welcomes you. I miss you, Mama.
John Constable’s pastoral scenes make my heart soar and my stomach leap with hope. I’m convinced I belong in the countryside. Oh to settle down in a space with grass and trees and meadows and pastures and family.
I ache for words to describe how I feel, but none come, so I’ve relied heavily on vignettes, snippets of experience and thought and find that will have to be enough.
Day 26: Unwind
Sung Eucharist at St. Paul’s Cathedral is an uncomfortable conglomeration of tourists filming the choir and worshipers reverentially gazing at the stained glass window of Jesus. It doesn’t feel like church; or maybe it feels like a church skeleton without the rest of the body. I know God is here. He has met Christians here for centuries and continues to do so, but my heart isn’t in it and the white wine isn’t nearly as nice as the red wine from Canterbury. I’m distracted by the number of whispering school girls, American tourists pointing during the service, and feeling like the Eucharist has become an exhibition piece in this place. It doesn’t seem holy anymore.
St. Mary Woolnoth’s takes my breath away. 7/9 T.S. Eliot students stand at its base and gaze at the building from “The Waste Land” that holds so much depth of meaning and mystery for poetry lovers. Death hovers over this place, yet it’s also a sanctuary. How can the two be so closely intertwined in the middle of a business district whose restaurants dwell alongside churches and everything is closed on a Sunday?
The entrance to the crypt begs me to enter but the gate is locked.
For the rest of the afternoon I sit in a coffee shop and read a book that doesn’t require me to do much thinking. It’s perfect. In the midst of a flustered city it seems I’ve found my long-sought oasis. As much as I have tried to fall in love with London, I don’t feel comfortable here, and the only reason I feel alive today is because I could sit in that quiet, hipster coffee shop on a lazy Sunday afternoon, minding my own business and pretending the city doesn’t exist.
Maddie and I spend the evening together back at the hotel, eating sandwiches and cookies and nectarines from Tesco and talking about stuff like literature and emotions. You know: the things you can talk about forever and still not really come up with any answers.
Day 27: I think this is a movie
The local parish rector meets us in the South Downs hills and guides us along narrow paths lined with nettles, finally emerging in Steyning, a quiet little town that doesn’t attract many tourists except those like ourselves who go to see Cuthbert’s church. He and other church members welcome us into their space and serve us tea and biscuits, a delightfully refreshing gesture of hospitality.
Sitting on a hill after dinner at the hostel outside of Steyning, I struggle to articulate the conflict raging in my heart. I’m afraid I’m not actually present, that it’s all a dream and I’ll wake up soon to find I’ve been lying to myself this entire time. It feels like I’m watching these experiences happen to someone else, or like I’m a character in a story who doesn’t belong and the author hasn’t figured that out yet. As the sun filters so perfectly through the clouds and bathes the hillside’s waving grasses with a touch of heaven, I truly will not be surprised if I suddenly wake up. But I don’t want to wake up. Even this confusing state of mind seems better than the darkness I normally inhabit.
It seems I just don’t know what to do with happiness.
God calls me to surrender a little more and let him fill me with new memories, but I struggle to grasp these memories. Even going back through journal entries from the past few days is discouraging because I don’t remember writing them. I hear the word “forever” mumbling through every replay of the past, and even as I inhale the glorious sweet smell of grass I can’t seem to let go of what I thought would be “forever.”
Does that even make sense?
Day 28: Wish you were here
I have tears in my eyes the entire time I wander through Jane Austen’s home. Her dear, beloved presence holds me in a ghostly hug that’s oddly warm and comforting. I feel lighter here, like I’ve managed to let go of something I didn’t even know I was holding on to.
I crush some lavender with a mortar and pestle, wrapping it carefully in a circle of cloth and tying it off with a piece of string.
God meets me, somewhat uninvited, in Salisbury Cathedral. I don’t want to be here but I force myself to walk around, separating myself from the group. At the end of my wandering, I notice a small door leading to a chapel off to the side. Bored, I cross the threshold and my eyes fall on the word “healing” printed on the plaque designated to explain the chapel’s purpose. It turns out the chapel is a space to pray over loss, whether of memory, love, health, emotion, etc. I stand in the center and stare at the crucified Savior featured in the main stained glass window, suddenly feeling heavy.
“God, I don’t know how to do this,” I whisper.
The stained glass window in the next chapel says, “But they are in peace.”