It takes a long time to come back. The exciting folds into the mundane: the plane wheels hitting the tarmac, the unpacking of socks and sweaters and UK adaptors, the first hug with each family member, the wagging tail of the golden retriever, the scheduling of dentist appointments and renewing of driver’s license and car insurance. Going to Scotland was a grand adventure that broke down into a thousand difficult details (visas and bank accounts and SIM cards); coming back is the equal opposite. On this side, though, I have memories instead of dreams.
Scotland’s autumn was all golden leaves, red berries, and mist on the North Sea. I loved it there, but I missed the intensity of New England crimsons, carmines, and scarlets. I forgot how much I missed the earthy smell of fallen leaves here, the rosy apples hanging in the orchards, the chill in the mornings, the silvery frost in the grass, and the round on their doorsteps.
The second morning I logged into work, still blurry from jet lag, I stared at my computer screen as a grim realization sank through me: I had nothing to dream about. I have always been a daydreamer, from elementary school math class to my first office job: while my attention is fixed on the task at hand, the rest of my mind is whirring with thoughts of the books I’m reading, stories I’m telling, visions of the past and future. Last summer’s daydreams were full of ruined castles, seminars on the Inklings and the imagination, hills covered in purple heather, and cliffs overlooking the foaming sea. Now, after I’ve fulfilled that five-year dream, my vision of the future is more like a void.
Like everyone, I’ve had long periods of uncertainty and transition before: graduating from college and moving out of my childhood home in one frigid winter, watching to see how a chaotic corporate merger would affect my job, and checking infection and recovery rates every day in the first weeks of COVID. God gave me good things in each season, like that maple clearing full of golden sunlight I saw on my morning drives. I’ve also learned to cope: I hid my taskbar during boring afternoons in an office to prevent myself from checking the time every 0.5 seconds; I lined up podcasts on literature and hope and theology to fill my long commutes. I’m not patient, but every season of uncertainty has intensified beauty and good times within it.
It’s over. It didn’t feel real to me as I was consumed with moving out of my flat and traveling around through the green hills, silver waterfalls, quiet glens, and sheep pastures of England, Wales, Iceland, and northern Ireland, but it’s true – I finished my degree. It gave me a glimpse of the ivory tower (a much more isolated ivory tower in this year, but still): the brilliant people who congregate in places like St. Andrews, the life of a graduate student, and the rhythm of life in Britain. I have a general, table-of-contents knowledge of the field of theology and the arts; a gateway glimpse of research areas like ethics & literature or imagination as a way of knowing; a greater certainty that I do not want to pursue academia any further for now. I have crammed enough class readings and dissertation research to justify the devouring of fun books, like Alan Garner’s Flavia de Luce series and Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward.
I am dreaming, though my dreams are murky and indistinct: it’s easier to envision one year of grad school than the full, long life I hope for, full of ministry, good friends, a beautiful home full of books written by others – and some books written by me. But for the first time in my life, I feel that this unknown is not the unknown of helplessness – it’s an unknown of possibility.
The unknown is gray, but change is red: vibrant, terrifying, chaotic, and exhilarating.