Day 45: Reflections on memory
Just before chapel I sit in the garden by the river. I do some homework, read, listen to music, and my heart is calm. A little light creeps into my heavy body and lifts it for a moment.
T.S. Eliot writes in “Little Gidding” that memory is the liberation from indifference, that no-man’s-land between attachment and detachment. I find this a hard pill to swallow. In moments of despair, when I’m carrying too many dark clouds and just want to be numb to the world, the last thing I want is to remember the light. But in my moments of numb indifference all I want is to feel something, but then to remember what it was like to feel happy leaves me angry and sad because it’s so difficult to feel that way anymore.
I don’t know how to understand Eliot’s words. Rationally, he’s right, but I’m struggling to understand why or how. How is memory healing and redeeming when it is so often painful? How do you make the move from remembering pain to remembering the goodness before the pain? How do you learn to see the goodness growing out from the pain, in spite of the pain?
Megan and I go on an adventure to Society Cafe and drink some of the best coffee we’ve ever had. Our few hours there are filled with giggles and paper-writing. In light of the upcoming days of immense stress and deadlines, it’s a perfect puddle of peace (and air conditioning) on a hot summer day in Oxford.
Day 46: Finals Weekend Day 1
Our to-do lists are unreasonably long but we all hunker down in our rooms and various coffee shops to get it done. Everyone is stressed. We emerge for meals looking like zombies. Some people have the audacity to point it out. Like yes, we know. We look dead.
Around 11pm I spontaneously decide that I will wake up early, get a little bit of research done, then force myself not to do any work for a couple hours by going to a coffee shop alone to journal and read the Bible.
Day 47: Finals Weekend Day 2
Unlike what usually happens when I make early morning plans, I actually wake up.
Jericho Coffee Traders is about a twenty-minute walk from where we’re staying, and two dear friends had recommended I make a trip there (shout out to Han and Kat). It’s so hipster and chill that I immediately feel at home, and part with three pounds for a mocha.
I seat myself by the window side of a cushioned bench. Across from me there’s a secondary school boy with two cups of coffee next to his laptop. I think he’s watching a basketball game.
From the journal:
The amount of money I’ve spent on coffee is not an amount I want to know or wonder about. I’ve gotten desperate again, I suppose. Poor sleep and poor mental health lead me to the poor belief that caffeine can’t possibly make it any worse than it already is. Or coffee is an escape. It makes me feel cool and sophisticated in a twisted way, considering I feel far less than that once it enters my bloodstream. In the moment, it’s a sort of balm; I get to live the coffee-addict creative lifestyle, writing in some hipster place surrounded by hipster people, the life I’ve always wanted to live. But is it really all that rewarding?
Whatever the reason, I find myself again in a small, hipster coffee shop on a Sunday morning, journaling in the soft grey light tumbling through the window, with an unsweetened mocha in a blue mug on the wooden table by my leg, and it strikes me that I’m here instead of in church. It’s our last day in Oxford. I’m here alone, with my depression playlist, Bible, and a mental to-do list of everything I have to get done before we leave for Cambridge tomorrow morning. Is this religion?
There are two big papers I don’t get done.
Jared brings chocolate to celebrate what I did get done.
Day 48: Footsteps
My parents came to Cambridge for a day almost 25 years ago. Now I’m here, peering around every corner for the buildings and bridges they saw and freaking out a little that I’m walking the same roads they did. Things look different from the pictures.
At Jemporium Vintage I fall in love with a men’s red jacket as soon as I try it on. It’s £25 and my only big splurge on the trip so far (besides books, which add up over time, apparently…).
After dinner at the hostel we see a festival performance of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” It’s not the greatest, but our cohort has mixed opinions on that front.
Day 49: Julien of Norwich
I walk into the first cathedral of the day feeling so heavy. I’m immediately angry and bitter at God when I see the flying ceilings, but I couldn’t tell you why.
I try to sit down but the vacuum cleaner screeches so I get up and walk around a second time.
There’s a statue of the crucified Jesus being held by his mother. His eyes are definitely closed, the crown of thorns causing blood to trickle against his eyelids. As I walk past, they seem to open and make direct, tired eye contact with me. I do a double-take and question my sanity, blinking a couple times. He’s still staring, so I take a few steps backward and reluctantly let his gaze penetrate my heart.
“I died for you,” he says.
“Okay?” I shudder. I keep waiting for his eyes to close again, but they don’t. Freaking out a little bit, I run away.
I’m so tired.
Tired of the fighting, not tired of life itself. “What if” scenarios for me are more about being tired of fighting for light than despairing of ever finding light at all. I know it’s there, I just can’t reach it. And it’s the reaching that’s hard.
Kailin finds me sobbing in one of the pews and we have to go to lunch.