Bon Voyage!

Bon Voyage!

Jul 16

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British flag clock

Clark and I are leaving for England tomorrow. Anyone who knows me, knows that I adore travel in general. The fact that I have visited two of my favorite cities in the last 3 months (NYC and London) has me pinching myself! In recent years, my daily activities have existed within a 4-mile radius so flying to England might as well be a mission to the moon.

I recently picked up a book entitled My Life in Middlemarch— a biography on George Eliot, (arguably) the greatest English novelist of the 19th Century. Modern-day author, Rebecca Mead describes in a sort of memoir how the themes in the novel Middlemarch have instructed her throughout various stages of her life. Sympathy, marriage, aging, complex religion–Eliot colors these features in a rich Victorian language and metaphor that often makes me wonder if I was born in the wrong era. Mead describes the usual tendency of readers to identify themselves with particular settings and characters in a book (which is true of just about every book I have ever read). And yet, My Life in Middlemarch cleverly suggests that we can read a book, and a book can also read us. How a piece of fiction nearly 150 years old can help someone decipher their own personal history is a great literary mystery, yet it got me thinking about the influences that have stayed with me throughout the various phases of my own life.

It’s not a great piece of fiction, but as I have been preparing to leave for England, I can’t help but think of what England has meant to me over the years. Have you ever felt like a place has somehow gotten under your skin in a way you can’t quite explain? Somehow it calls to you… draws you in… convinces you that it has some setting in your life narrative even if you are not sure yet what it might be. I’ve talked with friends who have similar magnetic draw to particular places on the map— from Boston to China, I find it fascinating that a place can have that kind of influence on a person’s worldview without them ever having set foot on that particular soil. Again…one of life’s great mysteries.

I have thought of England like that ever since college. I had an opportunity to study abroad, and I envied all of my friends that did. But instead, I stayed in South Florida to date a silly boy who broke my heart. One might say that I forewent the cultural exposure for a more emotional one– a different kind of education, I guess. As consolation, my friend brought me back a pair of British flag underpants as a souvenir. Even then, England faded into the backdrop of my girlish stupidity… metaphorically speaking, of course.

It wasn’t until seven years later that I travelled there for the very first time. I had recently married, and Clark and I were traveling a lot in those days. But no matter where we were, no matter how exciting or exotic, it wasn’t long before I was ready to return to my house, my bed, my silly Southern comforts. But England had somehow wooed me. When it was time to leave, I stood in the middle of the Heathrow airport crying like a 4-year-old leaving Disneyland. I’m sure if I had stayed longer, the weather, the taxes, and even the mystic reverence surrounding the British monarchy would have eventually sobered me. Nevertheless, at that moment, I had found my home, and everywhere else seemed foreign.

Seven more years have passed, and yet I cannot approach this journey with the same wide-eyed wonder. I was not a mother back then. But now, I am leaving two kids on American soil while crossing the ocean with another one in utero. All that mattered to me back then was sitting in the seat next to me. Marriage to Clark may have grounded me a bit, but my children? They have not only grounded me, they have buried me so deep in the details and the demands of their little lives that months will go by before I realize how much time has passed. I don’t mind it. In fact, I revel in it. And yet, my sense of adventure and spontaneity has been buried so deep beneath the soil of their  childhood, I wonder if my British fantasy has a shelf-life. Has England grown with me, or has it outgrown me?

Apparently, I haven’t lost my sense of adventure entirely because I am about to board a flight in 36 hours. I don’t know what to expect, but I am leaving with my husband, my unborn son, my library copy of Middlemarch, and the last 4 days of my 34th year (my birthday is on Saturday). While I embark on a 10-day nod to mother England, thoughts of Salem and Mia will tether me to my own home. Here’s to an experiment in being buried deep while traveling light.

Wish me luck!

 

Image via Spin Collective

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