As I noted recently, going back to Oxford always means reconnecting with a few dear friends who live there. I had a splendid afternoon with my housemates, but it was only one part of a week spent soaking in community.
After my rapturous walk home on the morning I arrived, I was greeted by my hostess – Jacque, a college friend who has lived in Oxford for years now. The first thing she said was, “Cup of tea?” Which is code for, “I’ll put the kettle on and we’ll have a long chat.”
We had plenty of long chats that week – sitting at her kitchen table, relaxing in her spacious living room, walking to the park or the coffee shop, meandering around City Centre. Many of our chats involved, or were in the presence of, her sweet wee baby, Matilda.
Matilda isn’t much for talking yet, but she gurgles and coos with the best of them. And she didn’t seem to mind being hauled all around Oxford (and up to London and back), as Jacque and I took her everywhere with us.
On Friday, Megan, another college friend, came up to spend the weekend in Oxford.
Megan recently moved to the south coast of England, and after several exciting but overwhelming weeks of transition, she was thrilled to be back in Oxford among familiar faces. And we were thrilled to have her.
She and I shared a room for two nights and stayed up far too late talking of a hundred things – work and family and life abroad, transition and culture shock and faith. We walked downtown on Sunday morning, via our favorite sandwich shop, and we stood in the nave of the church we both call home, and sang our hearts out together.
That Monday, I walked back down the Cowley Road to a building just around the corner from my old house, to spend the evening with Lizzie in her charming fourth-floor flat.
When we were housemates, Lizzie and I would frequently stay up late talking. Long after Jo and Grace (those early risers) had gone to bed, and we’d given up studying for the evening, we could be found curled up on her bed or mine, putting the world to rights over cups of tea or cocoa. We laughed and cried and wrestled with matters of school and career and the heart; we told secrets, told jokes, and forged a deep bond in those late-night hours. And on this evening, Lizzie made a pot of hearty pasta and a nectarine crumble, and we ate and giggled and talked for hours. Just like old times.
My last full day in Oxford was chock-full of community, beginning with the lovely Laura.
Laura teaches at my alma mater in West Texas, and she and her family are spending this fall in Oxford while she teaches in their study abroad program. They were away in Scotland when I arrived, but came back midway through my trip, and on Tuesday, she and I had a delightful day out together.
We also crammed in as much catching-up as we could – books, faith, travel, family, work, Oxford itself. We see one another rarely since I moved to Boston, and this bonus time together was a treat.
Later than afternoon, Jacque and I had tea in the back garden – she even broke out the posh tea from Paris.
Laura’s younger daughter, Molly, joined us for tea – though after trying the fancy tea we were drinking, she informed us seriously that she really prefers Earl Grey. (And ran next door to fetch her own teabag.)
That evening, I took a walk along the canal, out past the train station, to an old stone house where I’m always welcome.
My friend Simon (pictured above), one of the ministers at my beloved St Aldates, and his wife Tiffany welcomed me with hugs. We sat around the table with their teenage sons, eating pasta carbonara and catching up on our lives. After dinner, Tiffany served raspberry crumble topped with crushed almonds, and Simon and I sat in the living room and talked for hours.
I always wish I could record these conversations, capture their essence as well as the actual words exchanged – so many wise, loving and profound remarks come out of these hours among friends. But I have to be content with scribbling down a few of the most memorable words in my journal, and basking in the afterglow – the warm, nourished feeling that comes from spending time with people I love.
More (more!) Oxford photos and stories to come.