Yesterday, I had a powerful sense of getting better.
Here in Britain this year, the moveable feasts of Easter Sunday and the changing of the clocks coincided, and just as Christians are singing their alleluias for Eastertide, so are we pagans for whom the New Testament is one great redeeming story among many hailing British Summer Time, The Giver of Light. The change, coinciding happily with good weather, has been a marked one, enough to make new life stir within one’s soul.
Yesterday it was a friend’s birthday and a beautiful cloudless day, and the sun called to us through the windows of the café where we convened for tea in her honor, and then chased us through Christ Church Meadow and up along the High Street and Longwall Street on our way to Holywell Cemetery, where we spent a happy hour calling to each other amongst the graves. “Here’s a President of Corpus!” “Here’s the Bishop of Mombasa!” “Here’s Maurice Bowra! “Here’s Grenfell of Oxyrhynchus fame!” (My friends are a rarefied bunch.) The sun still shone golden upon the yellow stones of Magdalen as we made our way back across the bridge and home. Shortly thereafter, I convened with three others to cook dinner together, and as the sun finally set behind the playing fields and Boar’s Hill, we made soup and pasta and sat down for a long leisurely meal, drinking and laughing. It was a taste of summer, and perhaps of normal, well-adjusted adulthood: two men and two women in their mid-twenties hanging out, none of us talking about dissertation topics or how there are no jobs.
Meanwhile life goes on, and today I returned to the library, but the sense of feeling whole and alive that I gathered in yesterday’s sunlight remained with me. This time exactly one year ago the sun was shining in Princeton, too, but I sat dumbly staring into space in a depressive, gin-driven stupor, unbelieving that life could go on innocently all around me when my thesis had been ceded, finally, to the History Department. It was the most alcohol I’ve ever drunk, but I remember that day more clearly than many of the other occasions on which I’ve overindulged, remember the despair that came from watching the world continue as if nothing had happened and not knowing what I would do next.
In some ways I’ve felt as if the last year has been a slow recovery from that single moment of bewildered sadness. It’s been a year of breaking with old patterns and re-establishing new ones, looking in all kinds of new places for happiness and only finding it when I didn’t expect to, and most of all yearning to rekindle in my heart the burning love that made it possible for me to hand that thesis in. I still wonder nearly every day if that was my one great passion, the only time I will ever burn with a hard, gem-like flame, if after this it’s just going through the motions. They say that nothing is ever quite like the glukúpikron torture of your first love.
But last night at the end of the sun-kissed day I felt sleepy and warm and safe, and today in the library I felt as if I might be able to find in me some of the old enthusiasm again. Today was not so exceptional, but for that it still felt very much like old times, like the days I spent in the library during my first spring in Oxford when I started to learn how to love. To round off the day I went to evensong, as I did so often during that first Easter vacation. The resurrection brings with it hope, the priest said; and I’ve no doubt that if I ventured to tell her why this mattered, she’d have raised her eyebrows and said “ah” dubiously in the way that Anglican priests so often do when I venture to discuss theology with them. But afterwards I crossed a golden-stoned Tom Quad still bathed in sunshine, and was so very happy that just as color returns to the world and lambs are born and liturgies are said and some people dream of the messiahs to come, I am learning how to live and to love again and always.
GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him. (Hopkins)