Fourteen years ago I was in Oxford, England, walking along a river with the ducks.
I spent a lot of time walking around the city, amid the all the schools and churches and their spires, through graveyards and streets lined with shops and tourists and students, through parks and meadows with a handful of moo cows. I did little else, really, besides that and my schoolwork. I’d get up early to do my reading in a cafe and when my focus wore down I would just sort of wander around.
Like Dickens walking the streets of London! But depressed. It’s funny how sad I was during the best possible circumstances. Like many idiot romantics, full of anxiety and loneliness in a beautiful place, the friendship of my fellow students unable to palliate the meaningless curse of my self-imposed isolation. Nothing to do but to wander and mope. I loved it!
Sitting in my apartment now, I don’t think much about what I will do when it’s safer to go out. I just think about the past. I think about the streets of Oxford and walking down unfamiliar alleys just to see what was there. It churns in my mind.
Like plenty of idling mopes I’ve been looking at Facebook more. A week ago an alumni group posted a “virtual tour” of Oxford: an annotated Google satellite map. Fairly prosaic, but we didn’t have those high resolution satellite views fourteen years ago. I didn’t even have a smartphone.
I pored over the satellite imagery, tracing my routes marked with familiar college buildings, coffee shops, and museums. I remember eating a sandwich there! Ah, look at that bus stop. All precious memories. You might say I fell down the rabbit hole (this is an Oxford reference, thanks). It was a dive deep into the brain archives where nostalgia floats atop the less important details.
It’s not that I want to be back there; I don’t miss the place but I do miss the feeling. I’d work hard on my studies in the morning, pack up my books, and head out into the historic streets with no particular destination. The cobblestones were well-trodden but my future was not.
Remember that? Knowing that regardless of anything, you could just wander and let the future play out?
I checked Facebook again today and something else came up—an officially designated “MEMORY.” On April 19th, 2006, while we were in Oxford, a girl I was heartsick about posted a poem on my wall:
“This winter-eve is warm,
Humid the air! leafless, yet soft as spring,
The tender purple spray on copse and briers!
And that sweet city with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening,
Lovely all times she lies, lovely to-night!—”