Saturday, January 14, 2012

A January Story, Part II

When I left off, I was having a pretty rough night. The next morning, as I joined the other students for the second orientation session, I was still teary-eyed, but at least I'd slept. I was able to concentrate better on the details of Scottish student life being explained. When the staff circulated a sign-up sheet for upcoming weekend excursions to Glasgow and the Scottish Highlands, I found myself writing my name down. I still knew in my gut that I couldn't stay here that long. Still, on the slim chance I survived a couple of weeks abroad, I wouldn't want to miss out on those things...right?

Somehow, through the remainder of orientation, the opportunity to "escape" never presented itself. I hadn't had the heart to tell my parents I wanted to leave already, and I didn't feel comfortable approaching the staff with so many other students milling around. I decided I would have to wait and see how the first weekend went. Then, before classes were scheduled to begin, I could visit the study abroad office and explain that I was too homesick to stay in Scotland. I knew no one would be happy, but surely something could be arranged.

When orientation ended, we and our suitcases were stuffed into cabs to be taken to the university dorms. Everyone was excited, many kids making plans to meet up that night at some pub or another. For my part, I felt a little calmer. Knowing I'd be flying home soon, I was able to detach a little and quietly enjoy the sight of old buildings whizzing by. Edinburgh was a beautiful city, its narrow streets and architecture so different from Pittsburgh or Roanoke.

Once I'd checked into my little dorm room, I savored being totally alone for the first time since I'd left home. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. But I was too wired to unpack much, and I figured there wasn't much point anyway. So, after studying one of the city maps we'd been provided, I decided it wouldn't hurt to take a walk. Even if I was leaving soon, I'd like to be able to say I had seen something of the city.

Surprisingly, I felt rather exhilarated as I ventured down Clerk Street. The day was chilly and cloudy, but I didn't think it was unpleasant. I could see Arthur's Seat, the city's tallest hill, looming over the neighborhoods to my east. I wondered if I could climb it. I passed pubs, charity shops, a couple of familiar fast food places, and an inviting-looking Blackwell's bookstore. Soon, I was shocked to observe that, with few glances at my map, I had stumbled onto the famous Royal Mile, without once getting lost! And I'd done it by myself! In fact, I had rather enjoyed looking around by myself.

The Royal Mile had souvenir shops, historical markers, and even a bagpiper. I heard a few more familiar accents mingling with the Scottish ones as I walked along. Soon I noticed St. Giles' Cathedral, the historic Presbyterian kirk. I couldn't wait to tell my dad about it! I also knew that meant that New College, the theology department of the University, could not be far away. But there were numerous little side streets whose names either weren't marked or tended to change halfway along, so I was uncertain where to go. So, hardly thinking about what I was doing, I walked onto the grounds of Edinburgh Castle, just a few steps away, and asked an attendant if she knew where New College was. Though she wasn't positive, she suggested a likely street I remembered passing, so I quickly backtracked. Sure enough, in just a couple of minutes, I found myself standing in the courtyard of the New College of Divinity, gazing up at the John Knox statue.

Pretty soon I felt myself starting to smile. I was staring history in the face on these grounds. And when I turned around, I could see a Saint Andrew's Cross flag waving on the roof of the National Gallery, the Sir Walter Scott monument beckoning near the gates of the gorgeous Princes Street Gardens, and trains pulling into Waverley Station. Not to mention, this school was literally tucked into the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. And I was going to take classes here!

Even though it was scarcely 4:00 pm, the skies were starting to darken, reminding me how far I was from home. But as I headed back towards the Royal Mile to reclaim the solitude of my dorm, I felt that something  had shifted. I was still terribly homesick, but I wanted very much to take my theology classes in the shadow of the Castle. I wanted to tour the Castle and attempt to summit Arthur's Seat, too. Maybe even take a train somewhere.

And guess what? Over the next five months, I did every one of those things.

~ ~

Why did I recall these memories eight years later? I think it's because Edinburgh was where I learned that I could be brave, and that I could persevere when things only looked bleak. I'm not sure I knew those things about myself before. I also discovered that courage and perseverance do not necessarily look pretty. To this day, I still feel awful before trying something new, or even going through a pretty ordinary transition. I always doubt whether I'm up for the challenge and whether the whole thing will prove to have been worth it. But once I decisively venture to do what needs doing, I very often begin to thrive.

It's comforting to remember that on the cusp of a new semester. I have a truckload of anxieties, and I know I'm bound to have an ugly meltdown or two. But I also trust that God will give me the grace to be brave when I need to be. More importantly, even when I'm not brave, God will show His strength and faithfulness. That's something I'll always need to learn.

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