This unique semester has slowly and certainly acquainted me with a welcomed, yet pretty unfamiliar concept: quiet.
My ordinary days here have been largely quiet and still, and they have looked markedly different than those of my typical semester schedules. Most days here have been devoid of the numbing hustle and incessant noise that grew all too familiar to me before this trip. This semester has been refreshingly balanced: it has been full and unforgettable but it has yet to feel unnecessarily loud or chaotic. We’ve collected countless memories from weekend travels to incredible places in the past four months, and I’ve been deeply encouraged that even our average week days here have lacked crammed schedules and over-stimulated frenzy. It would seem inadequate and trite to reflect on this semester only by noting its change of pace from “real life” at home and at school. The pace of European living is commonly perceived to be calmer than we’re accustomed to in the U.S., and this stereotype has indeed proven to be true in many ways. The unfamiliar stillness of this season, though, is explained more subtly than simply the pace of activity, and this concept extends beyond just a lighter course load or calmer schedule.
This semester has challenged my restless nature in a few ways. Living in this brand new setting has pulled me out of a busy, loud season into a slower pace that feels surprisingly natural. I don’t typically rest or veg very well, and I previously shied away from alone time, preferring conversations, crowded schedules, and impractical to-do lists over anything that sniffs of down time. Before this experience, I preferred to be consistently doing and producing…a thought tunnel that too often smothers college students. The manic cycle of constant performance, commitments and activity can sometimes leave only marginal chances for spontaneity or reflection, and it took some initial adjustment to step outside of this spiral. This crazy college season is wonderful and beautiful in so many ways, though each passing semester leaves me feeling like I’m spinning while trying to make time slow down so I can savor all of its memories.
More poignant than any singular activity, this experience has been a needed shift in both habits and headspace. The general volume level was dialed back significantly this semester, and a detectable quietness took root in its place. The timeline and space of this semester may not be exactly recreated in future seasons, but it’s left me craving much less stimulation and less noise.
When I first drafted this blog I was glued to the couch, in the middle of a Sound of Music TV marathon with Emma for the entirety of one Saturday afternoon. We piled into our living room and watchedSound of Music (because I had never seen it!! I’m the worst, I know!) for over five hours including the bonus feature of Julie Andrew’s 50-year reunion tour of Salzburg!! I’m not kidding when I say we never left the couch that entire day–a rare luxury that we didn’t plan!
Anyways…during our last full weekend in Edinburgh, our Furman crew headed north to spend two days in the Scottish Highlands, venturing around Loch Ness and Isle of Skye. The trip started off on a humorous note, when we realized that the tour company facilitating our travels was named none other than “Wild Sexy Tours”…LOL. We spent two days riding in a big blue coach bus and soaking in the breathtaking scenery that frames the Highlands. Our weekend included two amazing (& strenuous) hikes, including one that our tour guide described ominously as “a scramble.” This “scramble” up the rock face was comparable to mother nature’s very own stair master. But of course, as any great adventure should, our trek resulted in some pretty incredible views. I’m glad others took plenty of photos of these stellar views while I was sprawled overtop of a boulder catching my breath!
We returned home to Edinburgh that Sunday night, and I took one last Sunday evening stroll to the grocery store for the week’s provisions. I walked extra slowly through our neighborhood with my reusable shopping bag tucked under my arm, and I tried to soak in one last round of this favoriteSunday routine. The grocery store has long been my happy place, so nothing is new there. The sun stays light until around 8:30pm these days (huge improvement from the 3:45pm sunset that hit us hard on the first day), so I fumbled with my phone to snap a few nostalgic pics on my way home. We closed out the weekend at our favorite Sunday night church service at Ps & Gs, and we listened to a poignant sermon on joy. The pastor reminded us that true biblical joy is often mistaken for happiness or feeling or emotional response. My favorite piece from this sermon was a point made about Jesus’s first miracle and its connection to joy. The sermon highlighted how Jesus’s first miracle, the transformation of water to wine at the Wedding at Cana was performed in the context of celebration rather than in a formal congregational gathering. “Celebrate” is probably my favorite verb, and I love that there are repeated reminders throughout the Bible to celebrate. Celebration in the Bible is often used, poignantly, to point to God’s goodness and remember his faithfulness.
We have had plenty of chances to celebrate this semester, and they have been some of my favorite memories of the trip. We’ve shared a lot of slow meals around the table together, embraced hilarious moments in foreign countries, and collectively fallen in love with Scotland. It’s been sweetly nourishing to celebrate ordinary life and rejoice for normalcy in a totally new city, learning its stories and its people. We’ve had every reason to celebrate, and surely we did! We have celebrated most consistently in the form of shared meals in our new city. It’s no secret that I jump at any chance to share a long, unhurried meal around the table, and I am not shy about my love for the essence of “gather ’round.” We’ve been lucky enough to share many of these meals together over weekly potlucks and other flat gatherings. I joke that this is our “Seinfeld Semester,” since we all live in the same neighborhood and we have cultivated a fun, shared community within our own neck of Edinburgh. We pop over to each other flat’s frequently to catch up, to borrow coffee pots and vacuums, and to mooch off of unreliable wifi connections. I will always fondly remember the night my flat mates and I hauled a cumbersome crockpot of chicken soup down the street for a potluck dinner!! Some of the best, sweetest moments of this journey have been just that: the journey — sometimes in the actual journey in-between destinations, and sometimes in stepping back to cherish the collective entirety of this journey, composed of tiny, quirky moments that I know we will miss deeply.
These shared meals have carved space for us to spend time together and linger a little longer than usual. Tish Harrison Warren’s touching book,Liturgy of the Ordinary, beautifully testifies to the power of shared meals in her chapter called “Eating Leftovers.” She humbly expresses the spiritual quality of life around the table saying, “Here, around the table and before witnesses, we testify to the experience of life as a precious gift to be received and given again. We acknowledge that we do not and cannot live alone but are the beneficiaries of the kindness and mysteries of grace upon grace.” One of the lines I quickly underlined in this chapter says, “We are endlessly in need of nourishment, and nourishment comes, usually, like taco soup. Abundant and overlooked.” Amen and Amen.
Small, repeated chances for stillness have traced most of our days here in Edinburgh, and I’ve turned into a lover of alone time. I spent more time by myself this semester than I ever have before and shockingly – I loved it. I ride the bus two hours each day to and from my internship, and this commute has become a sacred routine. I’ve mentioned before how much I love the bus, and I still do. My bus rides are crowded sometimes and bumpy at other times, but they are often not long enough. I look forward to these two hours each day to think and people watch and process. These commutes have become a strangely spiritual discipline, and I will miss them.
On our last night, we celebrated our own version of LDOC (an acronym for “last day of class” that is a common slogan in our U.S. university) here in Edinburgh, and our last Furman Wednesday night class was held at the Sheep Heid Inn. The Sheep Heid Inn is the city’s oldest licensed pub, with a charter dating back to 1360, and the pub is known to have been a favorite spot of Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie! The pub is also famous for their old-fashioned “Skittles” (bowling) alley in the back of the restaurant, so we naturally challenged each other to several rounds of friendly competition. Our walk home from class took us over the river and through the woods (seriously) and circled around the base of Arthur’s Seat as the sun was setting. This hour-long, breezy walk home captured a near perfect essence of this semester: the gift of having nowhere else to be. We have rejoiced lately over several moments, like this sunset stroll, that didn’t require us to be anywhere but here, right here.
I love right here, and I will miss it so!
Helen Mistler, Furman University (Edinburgh, Spring 2018)