We decided to take today easy, but I ended up with over 21,000 steps on my Fitbit so we clearly failed on that front.
I got to sleep too late last night after deluding myself that, no, I wasn’t jet lagged, we slept on schedule yesterday! But no, midnight to sleeping through my 7:00am running alarm until Therese woke up at 9:00am.
We had mercy on ourselves and took our time before walking to Gail’s for breakfast. Christopher was a tired and hungry wreck and ended up pulling a small patio table and attendant water glasses down on himself. Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt by the broken glass, but it was quite the scene. It impressed on Chris and me that we need to be more attentive and make sure we have mercy on a jet lagged three year-old far from all of the comforts of home. The breakfast, though, was to die for and if you ever go to Oxford, go to Gail’s. I got the English muffin and Chris got the French toast. Both were delectable.
We felt a bit deflated on our walk back after the whole table-flipping incident, but we talked it through and made a Christopher management plan. Our kids are great and have relatively easy temperaments, but it doesn’t mean they’re not little and need us.
We regrouped at the flat; I took a shower, Chris and the kids read books, and we were ready to head out again for lunch with our friends, Stephen, Steven, and Alessandra. We met them at Blackfriars and walked to Gloucester Green to Buonasera e Buongiorno for lunch. We had really tasty pizza and some good conversation while Christopher napped in the stroller. He woke up while we ate our tasty dessert, which we hope is a harbinger of more tasty things to come in Italy.
We said goodbye to one Stephen, who was on his way back to Trinity College Dublin, and embarked on a walk to Magdalen College with Steven and Alessandra. While we were making our way along Cornmarket Street, we turned a corner and I saw a familiar face. It was my John Jay Institute classmate, Brian, who, unbeknownst to me, is doing a second BA at Oxford. It was a truly providential meeting and a real treat to run into him. I’ve run into two friends now without plans, which seems very strange on a trip across the world.
We continued on our way to Magdalen. The porter recognized Steven and Alessandra from earlier and waved us through without a fee. A real treat. It made me wonder how much money Yale would have made had they walled off Cross Campus and made tourists pay to enter. I don’t blame the colleges here, really. While I’m sure a large part of their entrance fee scheme is revenue-driven, it helps maintain somewhat the cloistered atmosphere and the rarefied academic air of the place. It was strange at Yale to see tour groups traipsing through Sterling, but then again, I suppose that’s a symptom of America’s more democratic origins. While the foyer of Sterling Library is the spitting image of one of the college cloisters here, its shininess betrays that it is only America Old; not a 15th century medieval institution, but an 18th century Puritan one.
We peeked inside the chapel and continued through the cloister to the garden. C.S. Lewis was a fellow and a professor of English at Magdalen College and was particularly fond of Addison’s Walk along the Thames on the grounds of the college.
It was here that he had a particularly pivotal conversation with Tolkien about the relationship between common mythological themes and Christianity that was a significant part of Lewis’ conversion. I found this poem Tolkien wrote about those talks. An excerpt:
I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker’s art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.
In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True.
Then looking on the Blessed Land ’twill see
that all is as it is, and yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.
We ambled down Addison’s Walk and I thought of Lewis and Tolkien and their friend, Hugo Dyson, doing the same. It’s not hard to understand how the greatest fantasy novels in the English language had their start here. The place is full of literary terroir; it is natural that hobbits and Mr. Tumnus would have been imagined in Oxford. The untouched meadows and somnolent deer are out of a scene from the Shire. And it is no stretch of the imagination to think of Addison’s Walk as a sign of an even more beautiful country.
Lewis wrote in Surprised by Joy of his lifetime sehnsucht – “the inconsolable longing in the heart for we know not what.” He writes that he eventually finds its culmination in Joy; his awakening by grace to faith in God. I thought of this as I walked behind Chris and Stephen and Alessandra with Christopher who wanted to look at the boats in the Thames and pretend play airplanes. At first, I was a bit resentful of missing out on the conversation with the adults, but I thought of this sehnsucht, this longing that I think is in every human heart. I thought of Christopher’s rough day and it was clear that all he wanted was to play with me. So I played with him.
This is the current calling on my life: to be a mediation of God’s love for my children. Christopher has this longing in the heart and Therese will have it too. I know that the answer to that is what C.S. Lewis found: the Joy of God’s love in Christ Jesus. I am their first experience of the maternal love that is only a faint echo of God’s agape. I will fail; God does not. Our time on Addison’s Walk was an unexpected consolation for me in the midst of this season of mostly conversations with small children and not Oxford fellows, but God does work through both.
After our walk, we started making our way back to the apartment when it started pouring. We said our goodbyes to Steven and Alessandra, who were returning to Cambridge, and popped into Tesco where Chris and Christopher bought diapers while I nursed Therese on a bench in the entryway. There’s something exotic about nursing in a grocery store when its a chain you heard about first in a Lily Allen song in high school.
The walk back to the flat was some drudgery, but we made it. I played/lay in bed with the kids while Chris made us a tasty dinner. We watched The Fantastic Mr. Fox, drank some wine, and now Therese is asleep while Christopher is chattering to himself in the other room. Chris surprised me with some microwavable sticky toffee pudding from Tesco that was not as good as the one from The Trout on Saturday, but was nevertheless surprisingly satisfying.
Another sweet day.