It will have been the people. When future aunts, uncles, colleagues of my parents and fellow classmates ask me what
it was I got out of my year at Oxford, it will have been the people. They will assume that the unique traditions and ancient histories of this place made an impact on me and they will be correct in their assumption. But with two terms down and one to go, it is clear to me that the most inspired I have been while here has not been reading texts by people long gone, but rather it has been the same thing those famed writers and philosophers found inspiring in their own lives: the people.
C.S. Lewis found J.R.R. Tolkien and I have found mine. The cause for my inspiration is not merely one person, but rather a collection of conversations from fellow students, colleagues and friends. They took the hand of the girl who arrived here in September and they asked her who she wanted to be. I am just starting to be introduced to that future version of myself – the result of the ridiculous antics, wise words and occasional consolations that I have had the great pleasure of experiencing. So far, I like what I see.
They came in the form of international students from countless countries, along with peers from towns across England. The British students have been particularly intriguing and genuine, moving towards a degree in the midst of their grueling studies, yet pursuing their other passions with exquisite effort.
I have met mathematicians, historians and translators who deserve the title “artist” more than most art students I know. They are experts in their chosen fields, having been required to select a field of study in the early years of their secondary schooling. But there is something else underneath the surface slowly finding its way out of them in different forms of artistic media. I find them in pubs reading their poetry, acting in student productions of classic plays, as well as in our own music room surrounded by various instruments, yet seeking out a drum set with impassioned fervor.
It will have been the people. The people who were faithfully there to share the more embarrassing moments of studying abroad: the club meeting I went to without preparation, the word my tutor asked me to define that I had honestly never before heard, the awkward mishap when I forgot that “squash” actually means “juice.” They lent a floor to sit on and waste the night away when there was some ache inside that could not be verbalized, and they understood.
There is a cemetery near college. I walk by it on my way to tutorials and each time, I am reminded of a friend now since gone back to America, who sought inspiration in the walls of that cemetery. I take a second glance through the iron fence and moss-covered walls to read a gravestone, the carved words somehow still legible. All it says is, “Charlotte.” I keep walking, but that stays in my mind in the days to come. I consider all the famous scholars of the past who walked these streets before me. I imagine them in their daily routines, realize that they were probably a lot like my own. I wonder if any of them were aware of the contributions they would make to the future and I consider for a moment the possibility that they did not care. Rather, it would seem that they lived their lives in community with the people around them, and from this interaction, stemmed their great works.
Maybe it isn’t such a special circumstance, this studying abroad. For life itself is a grand social experiment, one in which we are connected with people whom we may never have known had they lived and died before our time. All of the people you will know in your life are out there; they are waiting. To the ones I have met already, the spectacular ones, thank you.
For the record, I went back. I went back to the club meeting at which I had initially embarrassed myself, and this time I was prepared. Reading the material beforehand included an introduction to the poet, W.S. Graham, whose poem “The Thermal Stair” directs the following line towards a person who has passed away. I apply it here to the living: “Remember me wherever you listen from.”
Until we meet again, cheers, mates.