Leaving

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I am leaving St Andrews today, and the UK tomorrow. I don’t know when I will be back. My time here was, of course, too short – but it is better to leave a place wishing you had stayed longer rather than feeling that you stayed too long. Someday, St Andrews, I will be back. Even though I have lived here for nearly six years, I know that I have yet to discover in this Kingdom of Fife. There are hills I’ve yet to walk, paths I’ve yet to cycle, castles I have yet to visit, cafés I have yet to sample, people I have yet to catch up with, moods of the North Sea I have yet to learn. I am going to miss this auld toun by the sea.

True voyage is return. I will come back someday.

Until then, farewell.

Interlude

The high today was 77 F/24 C. Bright sunshine without a cloud in sight. The sun rose at 7.30am and set at 6pm, giving us almost eleven hours of daylight. For lunch, Kelly and I sat outside eating tacos and quesadillas, basking in sunlight.

The sun shines harsher in the desert. Here, it is dry and dusty, the trees hunched over scrubby brush and the dry gold and brown grass. The beauty is unique. You learn to appreciate the varying shades of brown, of rock and dirt and hard ground. Despite the dusty green and gnarled brown trees, a pale blue sky, dry grass, you can have a tree full of birds: swallows, mockingbirds, blue jays, a cardinal flashing red. It defies all logic, but the sky is bigger in Texas. One has space to breathe, to stretch out one’s limbs, to look far and wide, and relax.

It is good to be home.

Favourite things

East Sands:

Taken from the coastal path south of the town, looking back. The skies had cleared enough to go for a walk if one didn’t mind getting a bit muddy. It isn’t the sunny Mediterranean, but it is Home.

The Autumn Monster

Six pumpkins, five adults, two children, and a very yellow kitchen.

Morley and Charlie with the autumn monsters.

Glowing masterpieces.

Humphrey and Boggart hard at work warding off evil spirits.

Across the ocean

I woke up this morning to the shouts of ‘Mountain Day! Mountain Day!’ in the corridors and so now I look forward to joining a Smith College tradition on my first day back in the States. There has already been a 80s disco breakfast, and soon there will be apple picking, putt-putt, and dinner at a diner. It’s a beautiful autumn day outside but to me it’s warm enough to be summer.

Yesterday I rode two buses, two planes, and two more buses to get me from one small town in Scotland to another small town in Massachusetts. As I left town I saw the waves crashing against the pier through the mist and the rain. And as I left the islands of Britain to cross that vast ocean, I saw the afternoon sun casting the western shores of Ireland aglow. The land was dark, dark, but every pool, every lake and every river was shining bright as mirrors in the sun. And the sea, it shone, reflecting the golden sky.

Lest we forget

I went on the OSP field trip to Coventry yesterday, my sole reason for wanting to go to Coventry being to visit the cathedral because of To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. I searched and searched and searched but did not find the Bishop’s Bird Stump. But I tried. In seriousness though, I have a soft spot for World War memorials and the standing memorial of the ruined St Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry is very moving. There is a daily Litany of Reconciliation held at noon that is just lovely. Behind the altar of the old cathedral are the words Father Forgive, and on another wall: ‘The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former saith the Lord of Hosts and in this place will I give peace.’ Amen.

Father Forgive

This morning I said good-bye to the Hardins’ and got a sweet hug from Annie when I left, and then I got on the long train north. I stepped off the train breathing the cool, fresh sea air and was glad to be back in Scotland. Though my time in Oxford was short, it was a good break from the monotony of the PhD. I walked in Oxford, London, and Coventry, I caught up with friends, I read two fiction books and half of a book for work, I edited what I brought to edit, and I slept at last.

Now, I am home.

Back to normality

Traveling was long and uneventful, the latter for which I am glad, and the former for which I am still tired. This morning I opened my window and could see clear north to the Tentsmuir and the hills beyond. I walked into town for lunch, happy to be walking, breathing crisp cold, clean air, first through the quiet neighborhoods and then onto South Street, bustling. I picked up a wrap from Butler’s, then onward to the old end of Market Street. The church bells tolled the hour. I saw the seagulls wheeling overhead; heard them and smiled. They will drive me crazy soon enough. Through the window to the common room I saw the denizens of 66 gathered for lunch, and knew that I was home.

Delayed

Not only did I arrive at the airport insanely early, but my flight has been delayed by two hours; thankfully, the airport has free wifi and I have a number of books with me. I have been reading Neuromancer by William Gibson this weekend and there is a post about it in the works; meanwhile, assorted thoughts.

I half-wish this plane I will eventually get on was bound to Edinburgh. I have been gone for too long. I have seen too many places, been to too many of my ‘homes’ that my present ‘home’ is getting fuzzy. I want to be back already and remember, have the stability of my daily routine. But there is also that perfectionist fear that once I return to Scotland, I will have to resume work right away, and what if my topic isn’t good after all? I am ever reminding myself that it is a journey. The topic is supposed to evolve.

The concept of ‘home’ is such a relative thing. Inevitably, I still refer to my parents’ house as ‘home’ because I lived there for most of my life and 90% of my library is there. But the Old House in SC is ‘home’ too, in a way, an ancestral home, connection through history and blood. Being with Kelly felt like home, and Albuquerque felt like home because the Williamses were there. But that little town by the sea, where my new friends and colleagues live, where I work and have my favourite haunts; that, too, is ‘home’ (the ‘right one’ according to some of my friends). Here I am sitting in an airport, wanting to go ‘home’, and all of the above will be correct. If I were to take a more abstract view, this earth is not my home at all; and yet, in the ECUSA Rite II liturgy, this earth is our ‘island home’. Contradictions, paradoxes: thus is life. Perhaps this blog is aptly named after all.

Returning home

Today I walked into church not knowing which Sunday School I should go to. I found myself in the Young Singles class, where I was attacked from behind by my mentor and like-a-sister Pami. Although many faces I didn’t recognize, and some did but I couldn’t remember names, still there was a welcoming and homecoming that enveloped me into the fold. The lesson, fittingly enough, was about the purpose of the church: to glorify God, in part by being a community, a body, fellowship.

This Sunday we had two services (once a month we have a contemporary service in the other chapel), so I went to the contemporary one. I stepped into a room full of people I remembered. I knew I was home when I could exclaim “John!” to the booming enthusiastic response of “Chera!”, a hug, and a “So what’s this about Scotland?” and “What’s this I hear about Peru?” When I turned around and little Anne-Marie isn’t so little anymore. When, even in a “proper” setting, a traditional chapel with everyone in their Sunday best, it was perfectly okay to clap and dance and be joyful. When I would trade grins with Julie, who was in the band, like we would do in youth group. When afterward as we chatted, she said in response to my grad school plans, “You’re crazy Chera Louise, but you’ve always been crazy!”

I knew I was finally home when after dinner I tapped my pastor’s shoulder, politely interrupting his conversation, and he did a double-take when he saw me. “Mercy!” he exclaimed and gave me a great big bear hug. When he lifted his eyes to heaven in thanks that my arthritis has gone to remission, when he laughed with pure joy that I’m going to Scotland. He hugged me again and said, “Always remember where your church is.”