As I sit on the airplane today on my way home, I find myself watching our progress across the Atlantic on the little television screen a few rows in front of me. After seven weeks in England, I am finally on my way back to the United States of America. I could not have predicted how excited I am to return to the States when I left from New York in June. Obviously I had a wonderful time here—learning, traveling, experiencing—but as Erin would say, it’s the little things that matter. I keep thinking about little things, which are insignificant in the larger scheme of life but loom large in the immediate future. Little things like eating chili, calculating sales tax, expecting to understand my barista’s accent the next time I stop in a Starbucks, and riding in a car without a taxi driver in the front seat. When I eat tuna, it will be with red onions, not sweet corn or cucumbers. When I drink a Coke, it will have corn syrup and not cane sugar. Not that the American version of any of these things is better, but it is my home and these things are familiar to me.
Once I finished my course at Oxford, my last eight days in England seemed like a glorious yet exhausting and indefinite limbo extending the gap between two homes: one, the newly acquired familiarity and ease of Oxford, and the other, the impending joyful reunion with my home at Duke. I will not be able to move in at Duke for another week and a half, and I feel like a weary wanderer traversing continents looking for a home until I go where I belong (weary mainly from dragging a suitcase paralleling my own body weight across a foreign nation).
But then, as I sit here, I realize, despite how tired my feet are or how my hands are developing blisters from carrying the suitcase, that this is the perfect time of my life to be doing what I am. I am young; I am able. I have been given amazing opportunities to travel freely. I have the resources, the energy, and the time. So why would I waste this time? When I look back years from now, when I have a job, children, and ever-increasing responsibilities, will I wish I had done more when I was young?
Thankfully, I can truthfully answer myself that I have not wasted time. This whole time in England has been a lesson in seizing the day, and the last week here was yet another good example of living with a carpe diem mentality. Last Tuesday I attended my last seminar at Oxford, where I turned in my last paper (on Tess of the D’Urbervilles) and gave a presentation on two of the minor characters in The Importance of Being Earnest, Dr. Chasuble and Miss Prism. I was busy all the weekend before preparing them, and I thought they were pretty solid. I will not get back my final grade until I get to Duke, but I was happy with how they went.
On Wednesday morning, I left with Anjali, Mary, and Joe for Cambridge University on a morning bus. I think I was at Oxford long enough to develop a strong bias in its favor, but I was not nearly as impressed with Cambridge as I was with Oxford. It was beautiful though in its own way. We looked at some of the colleges only through the gates, such as Trinity College, Queen’s College, and Corpus Christi College.
We wandered for a while through Downing College as we attempted to find our way to King’s College. It was very beautiful, with flowering plants all around the neoclassical campus. Eventually we found out that the gate bordering King’s Parade (the street to King’s College) was locked, so we walked out the way we came and walked a different way to our destination.
King’s College appears to be the most famous college at Cambridge. It is architecturally stunning. We paid for admission, and then walked through the cathedral, around the quad, and down the grounds to the river.
After touring King’s College, Anjali and I split off from the group and took the train to South Benfleet, Essex, where we spent the night with her Aunt Kay and Uncle John again. We went out to an Indian restaurant, where I learned all sorts of things about chicken tikka masala and Anjali’s favorite dessert, gulub jamum (Anjali can correct my horrible misspellings of the words). Her aunt and uncle made me feel like family; they were so warm and welcoming. While at their house, Anjali and I watched the US Basketball team resoundingly defeat Australia, had breakfast in bed (courtesy of her Uncle John), and drank our fair share of hot chocolate and French press coffee.
On Thursday morning, John drove Anjali and I through several small cities—South Benfleet, Hadleigh, Leigh-on-Sea, and Westcliff—to the English Channel at Southend-on-Sea. While we were at the beach, we walked the longest pleasure pier in the world,
rode a seaside rollercoaster called the Rage,
ate a jacket potato with tuna and cheese,
ate fresh, hot donuts,
waded into the ocean,
and saw the tide come in from low tide in the morning
to high tide by the time we left in the afternoon.
It was a really wonderful and relaxing day, and by the time we got back to Oxford, we had napped enough on the train to hang out with the rest of our friends until late at night at Oxford.
Friday I had to sleep in and pack to be ready for the next few days of traveling. As it was our last day at Oxford, we had a fancy closing ceremony dinner. We all dressed up, went to the reception, went to dinner, and then went back to the first tourist place we had visited in Oxford when we arrived on June 29th: the Eagle and Child, the pub where J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis used to hang out. We stayed just a little while to bring our time at Oxford full circle, and then returned to campus to hang out one more time as a group in England.
Early on Saturday morning, Erin and I left our keys at the Porters’ Lodge at New College and set off for Liverpool, dragging our enormous and weighty suitcases behind us.
Here are some of the photo highlights from Liverpool.
I was really pleasantly surprised by how wonderful our time in Liverpool was. I had never heard good reports of the city, but it was a really fun place to be with its mixture of modern industry, pop culture, and historic dock areas. After Liverpool we returned one last time to London, where we spent two days in a hotel in Piccadilly Circus. We were surrounded by constant waves of tourists swarming the streets near Regent and Oxford Streets. It was a distinct change from the laid-back nature of Liverpool, but the energy there is contagious.
During this time in London, we took guided tours of Royal Albert Hall and the Houses of Parliament.
Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside these buildings. We also walked through Westminster Abbey and saw the Poet’s Corner, where you can see plaques in memory of William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Ben Jonson next to inscriptions for Victorians like Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens or modern poets like W. H. Auden, Seamus Heaney and T. S. Eliot. Of course, while we were in the abbey, we also saw the graves of numerous important British monarchs, such as Elizabeth I; Mary I; Edwards I, III, V, VI; Edward the Confessor; Henrys III, V, VII; Mary, Queen of Scots; James I; and William of Orange. Everywhere you step in Westminster, you’re likely to be stepping on the grave of someone significant. We passed by Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin on our way towards Rudyard Kipling, William Pitt, William Wilberforce, David Livingstone, George Handel, and Sir Laurence Olivier. It was overwhelming to be surrounded by so many great names from such different times and backgrounds.
It was almost surreal to leave Westminster and step back into the milling crowds outside. But we had a wonderful rest of the day and continued to check more goals off our tourist list. We rode the London Eye and got to see the city from a completely different perspective than we could have anywhere else. We also went to a musical in the West End, which was perfect way to end our trip. We went to a performance of Singin’ in the Rain, which is one of my favorite musicals. It was thoroughly absorbing and joyful; we were bubbling with happiness as we went home.
This whirlwind of activity, this rushing from city to city and from sight to sight has left me exhausted but happy. I am not content; that would imply more mellowness or shallowness than my feelings should convey. I am intensely satisfied with my work at Oxford and deeply joyful for the time that I have spent traveling and enjoying the company of my friends, both old and new. Each day of my time in England has been significant, and that is the only way that it should have been. To not live each day here to acquire more memories and live more fully would have been a waste of the opportunity given to me by my parents, my university, and my own efforts.
However, being young and living large has a different connotation in my mind than it does for most people. While I want to make memories and have fun, being young and vivacious must have some of the wisdom of age to acquire the type of memories that will age well as I do without fermenting or growing sour. I think that my peers often miss this distinction, as they assume that using judgment and forethought will prevent them from the full extent of fun and excitement they can enjoy. And this may be true, to a very small extent. I am willing to forego some experiences because I know that I will be happier longer if I do. I want memories that I will remember later and not regret. I want memories that I can share freely, recreating my experiences for anyone who knows me. I want my memories to be a photo gallery in my mind that I can guide my friends and family through, showing the works in each corner. And that is what I have. I am happy, proud, and satisfied. It is good to be young and alive. But it is even better because I use the best of my age and the best of age’s wisdom. I have laughed like a child and reasoned like an adult to give me memories that are perfect for someone my age when I am young.
And now that a week has passed in the states, I still look back joyfully. Oxford was a wonderful experience for me. But now I am excited to look ahead to a new semester at the university where I belong and feel at home. I am a Duke student. I am young. And I look forward to a brilliant future in front of me.