It’s been a while. I’m sorry. Winters, you know, are so very difficult. I visited Lewis’s grave around the very beginning of this one, a little after my last letter. Had class on the day he died, so I wound up going on his birthday instead. The train from Stratford to Oxford is about a three hour trip, assuming you don’t accidentally hop on the wrong train (which I did once), and then the walk up to Headington Quarry is about an hour and six mile trek along the old road. I should also note that much that road is uphill. Wound up walking around twelve or so miles the whole trip. So, needless to say, it was a long day, as this winter has been.
I’ve developed an odd habit of insomnia the last two months. I had it this past summer, but it’s now come to me here as well, which means I’m living in a more Phoenician timeframe, though the night is still the deep, dark night of winter. It will probably be about two in the morning when I finish this and yet it feels more like nine at night to my body. I suppose a greatly delayed jet-lag has finally found me. It’s such an odd thing to live and exist in the quiet of the night, to hear the night birds chirp, the geese flap along the water, the nightly exodus from the pubs, and the soft tickings of clocks that seem to be hidden in the day.
I’ve concluded that I developed this irregular sleep pattern out of a disinterest and misery with my program here. I know I started these letters writing about jumping to absurd dreams and embracing new beginning, perhaps even running from pasts. I don’t disregard any of that, yet what I came here for has become a near mute point. My program is not necessarily taught much the time, and most its teachers are not the most encouraging or supportive of humans (if ever), it’s not the most challenging or structured of ventures (after my two bachelors at least), and it has little variety or interest, even for a program primarily concerned with a single author. It is also riddled with an environment of arrogant elitism and careless disregard. So, needless to say, I’ve come to another country for a horrendous and frankly useless program and the only thing keeping me here is the fact that I’ve already paid so much for living. This ten days of a twelfth night has passed, I suppose. I’m quite ready to move along and go somewhere of more purpose, yet I’m stuck here for another six months, stuck to sit and wait miserably. It’s honestly boring me out of my mind, motivation for life, and now out of sleep.
And yet, here we are, in the quiet of the night, listening to birds chirp and clocks tick. I came running for something new, something somewhat absurd, and I’ve found myself disappointed, yet also silenced and motionless. Whoever I was before I came has left, whatever he was running from is wandered off elsewhere. In my countless hours alone here, alone in the night, alone in the day, alone without classes or work to go to, I’ve found a quiet I needed, an asocial solitude I thought I needed to avoid. There’s a sign beneath the bridge a bit down from my flat that says, “Do not enter without a sense of adventure,” and I cannot state how delightful that is. I’ve wandered into a dark and quiet place I wasn’t expecting, like the damp tunnel beneath the bridge, and I’ve found it to cover so much of whatever was. What was I expecting? As soon as you embark upon an adventure, you’re bound to, sooner or later, find yourself somewhere you hadn’t expected. That’s how it works, I think, as like Lewis would write in his losing of Joy,
“Slowly, quietly, like snow-flakes
—like the small flakes that come when it is going to snow all night
—little flakes of me, my impressions, my selections,
are settling down on the image of her.
The real shape wil be quite hidden in the end.“
I could have taken a taxi through Oxford, could have avoided the walk to his grave, but then I wouldn’t fully understand why Jack wound up living in his uni room so much the time, would still wonder. I could have taken a taxi the way back too, could have felt more safe in the dark, but then I wouldn’t have made a little furry feline friend on my stroll back. These are odd choices, I know. And yes, it was certainly miserable to make that hike. When I was finally arrived and had gotten there, it was about dark, and also winter. It was cold, slightly spooky, and my body was pretty worn and numb. So, what did I do by myself in the dark in the middle of an English graveyard at the end of November, I sat on Lewis’s grave and ate a bag of cookies. Odd choices, I know. Odd expectations draw odder conclusions. Best time I could have ever asked for though, and probably the most appropriate moment I could have ever had with him. It felt like a childish moment, a moment that was very Lewis, very simple and small, very quiet.
I will not graduate from here with great prestige — my disinterested and non-encouraged mind won’t let me — and I will not leave with a repertoire of Shakespearean knowledge that no one else has or even much more than I learned from my bachelors. Yet, I will leave in an unexpected sort, in a manner of quiet reformation, quiet change that’s settled upon me as a slow English winter. Sometimes, my darling girl, that is how our adventures come upon us, with a slow and gentle numbing that either stings your face or bores you to sleep. These odd and quiet adventures are not the loud clamourings we’d expect to come, yet they are sometimes what we need. They are the slow winter that gently draws us into an anxious spring.
As his grave reads from Lear, “Men must endure their going hence,” even if that hence is a slow settling of snow we hadn’t anticipated. Such odd surprises meet us darling, careful not to grow faint if they’d not be our preferred suspects.
Feel free to peruse my other letters in the Avon Epistles collection
and understand who I’m really writing to.
- Sir William Nicholson, Armistice Night, 1918
- C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, 1961
- Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, Oxford