After a summer knocking on doors, I was full of enthusiasm. I’d been acting enthusiastic all summer, as Southwest Publishing taught us, and now was totally filled with it. Much of my outward expression, my super interest was in order to be liked. But it was not a lie. It was the best way I knew to be myself, and also, the best way to cover for the immense inadequacies I felt. Inside I swung between huge extremes, but on the surface, I put on a brave, joyful face.
But there was no faking the joy I felt to be in London. I awoke the next day thrilled to my core. I didn’t care what classes I took. I wanted to take it all in. Drink London and let it fill every cell in my being. The deep, azure blue sky, the clouds, the fog, the cold, the lakes in parks, the beauty, the crunch of dry leaves on the sidewalks later in the fall, all this, brought me immeasurable joy. It was nothing ordinary. It was electric.
Sunday, I attended a Methodist church nearby and could not sense Jesus there in the building at all. I was disappointed and saddened by this. Where was He? I did meet a kindly older woman, Mrs. O’Hara who had me over for coffee and a chat. That night I attended Muswell Hill Baptist Church and LOVED IT! I wrote, “Real Christians and a family atmosphere. The Lord was there. I could feel Him! It was absolutely wonderful.” There was coffee and tea after the service and I stayed talking for four hours, meeting some people my age.
We had orientation for our classes. They were all held in this large room given to our use at the School of Pharmacy of the University of London located at Russell Square.
This was my most unique semester in college. Classes immersed in culture, walking tours and plays. Most nights, we attended a play in the West End. We had student tube passes, discount play tickets, and access to archeological digs and walking tours of London. We read literature and then explored the very places they described. We took frequent weekend trips. Alongside of all the excursions, we authored papers, took tests, and heard lectures from four British and two American professors.
There was a piano in the classroom, and I immediately went over to it and played Turn Back O Man from Godspell and another piece. Karen noticed this. She was not amused. I seemed like a showoff to her. I thought I was earning points. I liked all my classmates. At the beginning, I wrote what neat, kind and nice people they all were. I could not imagine any of them not liking me.
My roommate asked Karen to dinner one night in late September. They had a wonderful time, and I was jealous! Even though I had gone to plays with Karen in groups and been with her at class, this burned me. “I’m such a slow mover!” I wrote. “Why can’t I be more myself? Be more natural! I certainly have a lot of problems to overcome. I want to be able to come out of my shell and do things.” The self-judgment and self-critique ran deep within me. But here I caught something true; I was not at peace in my own skin. I did not feel safe “being me.” At nineteen, I did not know fully who I was.
A group of friends and I traveled on school break to Scotland for 8 days in early October. It was a journey by train and bus all the way to John O’Groats, with time hiking around multiple Lochs, plenty of windy, cold, rainy weather about which they complained, but I loved. My joie de vie was not easily dampened. Karen and I went with separate groups for this trip. After arriving home, I wrote, “I chanced seeing Karen this afternoon. She is beautiful. A shining, wonderful hug greeted me, like a long-lost friend. She is so wonderful, down-to-earth. She has her head on straight. I really admire and like her. I enjoy her company.”
My trip to Scotland had cost around $150, which wasn’t bad for 9 days of travel, but was money I didn’t have. I was borrowing cash from others and nervous I would not be able to pay it back. My parents pinched pennies to help me out while in London, but mostly, I felt broke and scared much of the time. This was an expensive semester on top of the loans. Occasionally, they sent checks in the mail. I was always running short, feeling scared, but fled from this inner darkness hidden in my soul.
Whenever home, I attended Muswell Hill Baptist Church. This group welcomed and accepted me. My first Sunday for the morning service, Mary, the greeter, welcomed me like a long-lost friend. That week, I sat towards the front on the wooden pews along with many others around me. I loved the pastor immediately. His name was David Luce. I didn’t quite follow his sermon that week, filled with hymn texts and poetry, but I was caught by his spirit. He exuded a genuine joy in his countenance, a confident faith, and an evident love for and experience of Jesus.
One morning I met Rev. Luce, as I called him then, for coffee and we talked for two and a half hours. Another week, he had me over to the manse for lunch after Sunday worship. There I connected with his wife Mary, their daughter Philippa, 17, and sons Joe and Carey, twins, aged 8. We ate, laughed, talked, and played games. One game was the joy of comparing American and English vocabulary. At one point, David chuckled saying, “You say ‘figure it out,’ to speak of thinking about something. We would only use that phrase in doing mathematics. And what do you call the boot again, ah, yes, ‘trunk.’”
“Oh wait, that was interesting. We say ‘butter’ with two t’s in it, and you say ‘budder,’ as if spelled with ds.”
In this banter, there was no sense of being put down, but simply enjoyed. Now, more than 40 years later, this comparison of language is still an immense joy to us. I felt connected to them and especially to David. He looked at me with eyes filled with the most loving acceptance I had ever seen.
I met with Karen once prior to one of the plays to grab a hamburger. The place we chose ended up serving what looked and perhaps tasted to us more like sliced canned dog food on a bun. It was inedible. It turned out to be a bonding experience as we laughed it off. That night she spoke about a challenging paper she was working on for Sociology, a class I was not taking. “Hey, when you finish it, I’ll take you out to a nice dinner!” I thought of this as an incentive, perhaps a bribe, to get her on a date with me. There was much I didn’t know about her living situation, but she really didn’t want to go on a date with me. She told me later, “It was the first paper I almost didn’t finish.”
(to be continued)