This is a relatively inauspicious exit, actually-- I think I was hoping for more fanfare or something that would mark the end of this adventure more definitively. Instead, I've spend a weekend cleaning my flat (though, I didn't go as crazy as I did when I left the States-- no getting on my hands and knees to scrub the baseboards) and packing up (I suspect that once again I'm going to get stopped when I try to check in because my bag is too heavy, though for the life of me, I have no idea what is weighing it down so much. I've gotten rid of what was making it so heavy on the way over-- the toiletries, the voltage converters [which turned out to be relatively unnecessary]-- and the souvenirs I still have to take back [since my dad took a lot of them back with him when he visited] aren't heavy at all. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised-- though I guess it would bookend my trip nicely to have to shuffle luggage contents while fellow passengers step over me on their way to the ticket counter on both ends of my journey.), and traveling to a Comfort Hotel near the airport because the Airline coach doesn't run on Christmas day. I'm currently writing from a place with no charm-- it looks like the site of any large group of hotels off a major roadway and could be anywhere in the world. It serves its purpose though-- I can get to the airport from here.
It's not that there hasn't been fanfare in the last week-- in fact, there's been a very flattering bustle of activity around people wanting to say goodbye to me (or, saying goodbye despite protestations that they don't want to, which is even nicer). I've had lunches and dinners and drinks with friends and with a few of the students that filled the time until this past weekend. Peter took me to a lovely farm/restaurant outside of Oxford called Fallow Fields for what was an amazing farewell lunch. (There are no pictures of the outside because, in traditional English fashion, it was raining quite hard, but you can get a sense of the beauty of the place here http://www.fallowfields.com/restaurant/.) The inside of the restaurant gives a hint to how gorgeous a place it is.
The food was amazing there-- and it's the kind of place I wouldn't have made it to otherwise since it's not accessible by bus (there is a part of me that wonders how much of the local area I did miss because I didn't have a car. I was limited by bus routes-- which never felt particularly limiting, but then, there are places like this I know I missed.).
And, that's both good and bad-- bad because it's provided me with a lot of time to form a mental list of all the things I'm going to miss about being here, not least of which is just being here. Oxford is the kind of place I could imagine myself actually living-- it's an adorable smaller city with easy access to larger cities like London; it has small town charm since it's easily walkable and compact but with all the culture that a city centered around university life can possess; and it's stunning. I have this fear that the scenery back in the US is going to feel really drab and boring-- I've spent four months wandering places with buildings that are hundreds of years old, touching stones that were laid thousands of years ago, and immersed in an architectural and cultural history that I find confusing because it spans so many centuries and I can't quite keep it all straight in my head (I still can't tell you the order of the monarchs or how they are all related-- or not-- to one another.). It'll make me rethink telling people I live in an old house-- suddenly something built 70 years ago doesn't seem that old. In fact, it's practically brand new! And, I'll miss the adventure of it all-- having a constrained time period in which to live here has pushed me to explore and go out and do things no matter what. I feel like I've seen something new and unfamiliar practically every day I've been here. I've been almost completely undeterred by conditions that I think I would have let stop me before-- pouring rain, cold, travel time, even money... there was no time to let any of that stop me with only four months to fit everything in (though, I've hardly done everything. I haven't even scratched the surface.) My "real life" isn't nearly as exciting-- and those trappings of real life (like, having to teach a full load of classes instead of the one I've taught here, maintaining my house, and even the fun parts like playing tennis and seeing my friends) sort of get in the way of being adventurous, at least on a regular basis. So, there's a kind of sadness to thinking about going back to normal.
Time to think has been good too-- I've spent a lot of it focusing on what I've missed (mostly friends and family, really-- though, I also have to admit that as much as I've liked the freedom of public transportation, I'm quite looking forward to having a car again. The grocery store is a lot easier to manage when you can buy more than you can walk home with, especially in the rain.) that I can now have back in my life, kind of giving myself things to look forward to once I'm back on American soil. And, I had time to look back over my blogs from the past several months and appreciate just what an amazing time this has been and how much this opportunity has afforded me (which sounds really cliche as I'm writing it... yet I don't quite know how else to put it). And, I'm not leaving empty-handed as it were-- I've made friends (and, since I'm pretty good at keeping up with people, friends that I can honestly have hope I'll have forever) and learned a lot, both about myself (because I don't think I would have guessed I would be the kind of person who would be so undeterred by weather, money, confusion, travel complications, etc.-- especially when they all collude at the same moment. I've been a lot more laissez-faire and outgoing here that I think I am in my "normal life"-- something I hope to hold onto when I get back.) and about places and people and culture, and I finally got to have the study-abroad experience I didn't have when I was in school (not to mention, I have a lot of souvenirs-- I've collected water-color paintings from just about everywhere I've been. The experience of this trip could continue for months in framing and hanging alone.).
I feel like there should be some final, all-encompassing statement that sums up this time (and this blog)-- and yet I think it's a mark of how grand it's been (and, maybe a little of the fact that I'm not completely ready for it to end even though I'm heading to the airport in two hours) that I can't think of just one thing to say that wraps it all up. I've thought about it for several minutes now-- and, I've just decided there is no perfect ending to what was an almost perfect experience. How could there be?