Wednesday: My second day back in Oxford

I woke up Wednesday morning, my second day back in Oxford, and I made my way down the lane toward the bus stop on a cool, crisp autumn morning. The sky overhead was blue, polka-doted with puffs of white clouds drifting along the blue current, interspersed with brush strokes of white streaks from airplane flight paths. It was the kind of fall day I love. Where you’re happy to put on an extra layer, a sweater to stay warm, as a way to barter with the weather for staying dry.

I missed the first bus I was hoping to catch, so I decided to stop into the small corner market that’s just down the lane from the Kilns, to see about finding something to eat. In a hurry, I hadn’t stopped to grab breakfast before leaving the house. I entered the small market, greeted an older woman behind the front counter, and I spotted a cooler in the back that I hoped was hiding some orange juice. The store is called “Ghandi’s” (which Debbie thought was a bit racist, when she heard that’s what people referred to it as, until she realized that’s actually its name), and its cramped shelves are stocked to the point of overflow. I grabbed an orange juice and looked, unsuccessfully, for a granola bar to fight off my morning hunger.

Taking my orange juice to the cash register, the woman behind the counter excused herself just as I arrived to answer the phone, greeting the person on the other end in a warm British accent. It was someone she knew, from the sounds of things. I could hear the British accent on the other end, without being able to fully make out the words. Something about not being able to make it into work on time, and running late, because she had to drop off her daughter at school.

“Don’t worry, Danny,” the woman said into the phone, with her back turned slightly away from me. “I’ll sort it out. Just don’t leave her!” She talked insistently, in tone, but she emphasized each point with her hand. Waving it as if to make her point.

“It’s okay, Danny,” she kept saying. “I’ll sort it. Don’t worry, Danny. Just don’t leave her there alone!”

For some reason the candid conversation nearly made me laugh out loud. I’m not quite sure why. If it was the heavy British accent from this older woman waving her hands behind the cash register. Or if it was just a general lack of sleep, fatigue and remnants of my jet lag. But the repeated, “I’ll sort it, Danny!” comments struck a cord with me, and I left the market a few minutes later wanting to repeat her words in my best attempts at a British accent. “I’ll sort it, Danny!”

The bus dropped me off on High Street once I reached Oxford’s city center, and I cut through a shortcut, down the same meandering lane that leads me past New College, along the cobblestone foot paths, with tall college walls on either side of the narrow street. And Oxford spires peaking up over the walls, standing at attention, as if to threaten the stretching blue skies overhead with their joust-like towers.

I passed through Harris Manchester’s high-arching doors and headed toward the library, to punch out my essay, which was due that afternoon. Returning to Oxford during second week, I’ve really had to hit the ground running.

But before I made it to the library’s wide, stone staircase, I ran into Lucy, who works in the library.

“Oh hi Ryan,” she said, with a look of surprise. “I didn’t think you were returning!”

I explained that I had been in the States an extra week or so, for a wedding, and that I was now playing catch up.

“Oh good. It’s nice to know you’re back,” she said. “I just remember seeing all these new people and thinking, ‘That’s where Ryan sat!”

I laughed. I was glad to hear I wasn’t the only one to notice that.

She told me she had just returned from holiday herself, “Where you’re from. Well, not really where you’re from… San Francisco.”

“Oh yeah? Well, that’s close. West coast, at least.”

I smiled. Told Lucy it was good to see her again, and then excused myself to the library so I could get to work on my essay.

Taking my seat across from the desk where I normally sit, still unmanned, still holding several seemingly unused books, I told myself I’d give them another day or so before I moved in, if I hadn’t seen anyone there by then.

My first God, Christ and Salvation Tutorial

Five hours of working through my notes and I had a 3,000-word essay cranked out on the topic of Revelation. Essays printed and in-hand, I hurried across Oxford, still on foot, only to find myself caught in the rain.

By the time I had made it to the Oxford Theology Faculty building, where my tutorial meets, I looked as though I had run through a sprinkler. I passed through the front door and up several flights of a winding, narrow wooden staircase. All the way up to the top, before knocking on a closed door with the name “Philip Kenndy” in small letters on a bronze plaque.

“Come in,” the voice from inside called.

Entering, I found a man in his mid-50s seated behind a desk, peering over his glasses, and turning from his computer to face me.

“Well hello. You must be Ryan,” he said, in as inviting of a British accent as I had heard.

I apologized for being a few minutes late, and he quickly brushed it off.

“Not at all, you’re quite timely.”

He told me he was just finishing a report, “for another degree I don’t want to do but I was told to,” as he turned again to his computer and closed down the document he had been working on.

Dr Kennedy wore a gentle smile, which, when combined with the warm, inviting British accent, immediately put me at ease. Even in my anxiety at crossing the city center in the rain and not being late to my first tutorial.

The room’s window was open slightly, and it looked out on the city center. The high office providing a sweeping view. It was a great office, and he noted how quiet it was, “Even on a busy road like St Giles,” he said. “Being on this side, away from the street, makes it quite serene.”

And it was. His office wasn’t large, but it was roomy enough for the both of us, plenty of books stacked on a bookcase that stretched from floor to ceiling against one wall, his desk, and two chairs. It was full, without being cramped. A rarity in Oxford, it seems.

He asked me a bit about myself. Why I was at Oxford. What my particular interests were. And then we dove right into my essay, he asking me to read it aloud, “So I can hear you present your argument.” And so I began.

After I had read my paper aloud, he walked me through several points he had noted as I read, and then we talked about several particularly noteworthy scholars and their contributions to different theories of God’s revelation. The class is a modern theology course, and so it provides a look at some fairly non-traditional views on God, Christ and Salvation. But the way in which it was discussed was wonderful. “Here’s what Dr so and so proposes; what do you think about that? Here’s what this other Dr so and so suggests; what are your thoughts on that?”

And soon, our hour together was up, he was giving me notes on my next essay, and then he was walking me back down the staircase and to the front door.

“Thanks so much for the tutorial, Dr Kennedy,” I said, turning to say goodbye as I reached the door.

“You’re very welcome, Ryan,” he replied. “But you can call me Philip, if you like.”

“Oh, right. Thank you. Another difference between the American and UK education systems.”

He smiled. “See you in two weeks.”

“Thanks, Philip.”

I returned to Harris Manchester College, back across town, and slumped down in my desk to get a bit of reading done for my last essay of the week before meeting up with Jen and Rob & Vanessa that evening for dinner. We hadn’t seen them since returning, and they’d be taking off before the end of the week, so we were looking forward to the time together.

Pizza with the Gareys

I met Jen in town that evening, after she got off her bus, and we walked together to Rob and Vanessa’s old place. They were giving us their bikes, as the bikes had been given to them when they arrived by some friends who were leaving Oxford at the time, and they wanted to return the favor. Even after we insisted that we’d like to give them something for them, they refused. It was incredibly generous of them, and we were excited to have bikes again.

Walking up to their apartment building, we spotted Rob pulling the bikes out of the bike garage and setting them up.

“Hey!” he called out, as we made our way up the lane.

“Hey, good to see you again, bud!” I replied as we approached.

We exchanged hugs and Rob told us Vanessa was finishing up some work. A test. For her nursing program. And so she’d meet up with us, likely at the restaurant.

We talked for a bit, about what they both had been up to since we left, before hopping on our bikes and making our way north. Rob heard from Vanessa on the way, and we decided to pull into the office where she works (around the corner from where we used to live, on Banbury Road) to meet up with her. Turning off the busy Banbury Road, which runs north, leaving the Oxford city center, and heads toward Summertown, our bikes made crunching sounds as we entered the gravel driveway in front of Vanessa’s office.

She was coming out with an older co-worker of hers as we pulled up, and she began to laugh.

“Well hi,” she said with a laugh. “You guys look like a bike gang.”

We all laughed.

“Yeah, I guess we kind of do, don’t we?” Rob said.

“Can you come out and play?” I asked in reply.

Vanessa caught a ride with her co-worker while Jen, Rob and I rode our bikes the rest of the five-minute journey to Summertown. We pulled our bikes up in front of a small Italian restaurant and locked them up before entering into the warm space that smelled of dough and garlic. The room was nearly full, and the waitress asked if we had reservations (we didn’t), before ushering us to a small table just outside of the kitchen, with a small window looking into the work underway on several pizzas.

It was so good to see Rob and Vanessa again. Our time with them is always filled with lots of laughter, and this night was no different.

They had found out they were pregnant while we were home over the summer, so it was fun to hear more about how that’s going.

“Yep, I had my ultrasound today to find out what we’re having!” Vanessa said, grinning at us from across the table while holding her belly with two hands and giving it a jiggle.

I laughed out loud.

She shared the experience with us, of going to the hospital for her appointment and being told she didn’t actually have an appointment. About how she wasn’t leaving without her ultrasound, and how she managed to find someone who she had previously talked with to get her in.

She shared the news with us, about what they were having, and we cheered.

“Hey! That’s great news, guys!” I said. “Congratulations!” I told Rob with a handshake.

We ordered our pizzas, Rob and I ordering two supremes that included everything, even an egg, and we continued the conversation. Watching the chef in the kitchen just to my right as we spoke, I saw him take an egg, crack it over my pizza, allowing its yolk to spill over the pizza toppings and crust below, and then doing the same for Rob.

“Yeeeeaaah…” Rob said, looking over his shoulder at the operation.

The women didn’t seem to think it looked so good, but we disagreed.

We talked with Rob and Vanessa about returning home, to Seattle, after their time in Oxford. They had arrived just before us, and so they had now been here for 14 months or so.

It sounded like Vanessa was excited to get back home, to the familiar, as much as she loved Oxford. Rob, on the other hand, seemed a bit less enthused.

“Yeah, it just seems a bit anticlimactic, I guess.”

“Hmmm… Yeah,” I replied with a nod.

Our pizzas arrived at our table, thin crusted, without being cut, and so, after a blessing from Rob, we all began cutting up our pizzas.

After cleaning up our egg supreme pizzas (myself and Rob, which were delicious), we left the warm restaurant, and went back out into the cool night air.

Saying “goodbye” to Rob and Vanessa, two of the first friends we had made after arriving in Oxford, it was weird to think they were now leaving. For good (apart from a short trip back Rob would be making in November). We promised each other we’d have to get together when we were all back in the Northwest over Christmas.

“That’ll just be weird,” I told them as we said goodbye. “Like two worlds colliding.”

Unpacking at the Kilns

Jen and I got back on our bikes and made our way to the city center, through town, and then out toward Headington and the Kilns. About a five-mile bike ride.

Returning to the Kilns that evening, to our room, where Lewis’s brother Warnie used to live, we began to unpack our things…

It’s a wonderful room, we’ve found. It has a large desk that sits in one corner of the room, looking out the window. On the opposite side of the room, it has a fireplace, with several photos hanging over the mantle. Two of Warnie, Lewis’s brother (on the left and right), and then one of the two Lewis brothers together (C.S. Lewis on the left, and Warnie on the right, smoking his pipe).

One thing, in particular, I really like about the room is the wardrobe. I’ve never had a wardrobe before. It’s not the original, that one is in the Wade Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, but it is pretty great.

It’s tall, and wooden, and terribly old-fashioned. Inside, it has all of its drawers and shelves labeled, so you know where to put your things, such as your handkerchiefs, your hats, your pajamas and so on.

I find I don’t have nearly enough handkerchiefs to necessitate an entire drawer, but I have made due…

In addition to this room, we also have a room next door. The first room was Warnie’s study, while this second room is where he slept.

We’re considering moving a larger bed into Warnie’s bedroom, which is smaller, but quaint, with another wardrobe and a small fireplace, and then we’d use the study as a proper study. But we’ve yet to get around to doing that.

And so we began unpacking our things Wednesday night, after dinner, which we hadn’t had time yet to do. And it was a strange feeling, unpacking our clothes.

Filling the wardrobe and dresser with our shirts and socks and trousers (pants). And I found myself thinking, “I’m unpacking my things in Lewis’s old home… To live… This is crazy.”

Jonathan, our other housemate, arrived late Wednesday night. From a trip to the States for a wedding in California. Knocking on our door first, before saying “Hello?” in his wonderful, sophisticated English accent.

“Hi, Jonathan! How are you?” I asked as he entered.

“Good, thanks. Yes, very well,” he said, wearing a wide grin and an In-And-Out t-shirt, which I thought was hilarious. He’s very proper, Jonathan, and I’ve only ever seen him wear a button up shirt and sportcoat. This was much more casual than I was used to seeing him.

“I like your shirt,” I said, motioning to the logo on the heart of his shirt.

“Oh… yes! It was quite good!”

It was good to see Jonathan again. He’s a great guy. Very nice. And very bright. He just finished his PhD here in Oxford recently. In Classics. And now he’s sticking around for a bit to teach. It would be good to see more of him this year. I always enjoy our conversation, and our shared interest in Lewis.

Thursday: Eagle & Child with Jen, and Tea & Cookies at the Kilns

Thursday was my first day of being back in Oxford and not having something due. It was a great feeling, knowing I could retreat to the library for the day and not have to deliver anything. Not that day, at least. My next essay was due Friday afternoon.

Having a bit more time, I managed to grab breakfast that morning before leaving the Kilns. As busy as I had been, I realized that was the first day I had eaten anything before 5:30 at night. And it felt good.

I spent the day in the library at Harris Manchester, before meeting Jen at the Eagle & Child that night. We had been excited to make it back to the pub when we arrived, and it was a great feeling to be able to sneak away from everything and have that time together with Jen.

We found a table in the back of the pub and I placed our order at the bar, our usual (Jen had the glazed chicken and I had the bangers and mash). I love the pubs here in Oxford, with the low ceilings and large, old wooden beams. With wood everywhere, underfoot, on the walls, making up the bar. And the smell of years’ worth of pints and laughter among friends. It was so nice to be back at the Eagle & Child, and it was great to catch up with Jen. I felt like I had been running a mile a minute to catch up on things since we returned. It was like a breath of fresh air to stop for a bit.

We finished up our food at Eagle & Child, hopped on our bikes, and made our way back to the Kilns in the night, passing cars parked along the cars, people walking along the cobblestone sidewalks and glowing street lamps.

Four miles later, we were warming up the kettle for tea and taking our seats in the common room to enjoy some cookies and a warm drink. It was the perfect end to an evening together. And I still found myself in awe. Sitting here, in the same room where Lewis would’ve entertained his guests (including Tolkien and many others). And here we sat, in this home, where we’ll be living for the next year.

I took a bite of my cookie, a sip of my hot tea and thought to myself, “This really is unreal,” as my eyes passed from the bookshelf to the fireplace and fell to rest on the photos of Lewis hanging from the room’s walls. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever think this would happen to us when we set out for Oxford. And yet, here we are. Completely unreal.

Thanks for reading.

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