Scotland, For I [Part II]

I may not know much about alcohol, but I do know that morning drinking on the train from Edinburgh to Aberdeen will get you a few odd looks—although probably not as many as you’d expect most other places. The man with the food cart came down the aisle at ten fifteen and asked if I wanted anything. “What beer d’ya have?” I asked him. He looked at his watch with a little concern before hesitantly naming a few labels. I’d never had any of them before, so I employed a tactic that I’ve mastered recently. “Foster’s, please,” I said, nearly cutting him off. I may not know much about alcohol, but other people don’t need to know that, so I play connoisseur as well as the next American twenty-year-old.

“Shake It Out” by Florence & the Machine came onto my iPod and I enjoyed a few moments of victory before the train filled up with Scots. A surly young woman sat next to me. “Don’t judge me,” I told her. “I’ve never drunk on a train before and I wanted my first time to be in Scotland. I swear this isn’t sad.” “No, seems reasonable,” she muttered. I put my earbuds back in.

I wrote in my journal a lot on these train rides. An excerpt written while flying past little Scottish towns:

The steeples on the churches here are dark and bleak. If the Christopher Wrens in London inspire awe and wonder and glory, those here seem to say that there is hard, unglamorous work to do before we can get to where they’re pointing. Protestant work ethic and whatnot.”

The next nine pages of my journal are spent on the metaphor of Christ and his Bride. After that, two pages of quotes from Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss, including the following:

Faith cannot save you from the claims of reason, except insofar as it preserves and protects that wonderful, terrible time when reason, if only for a moment, lost its claim on you.” (7)

On falling in love with his wife:

…it was human love that reawakened divine love. Put another way, it was pure contingency that caught fire in our lives, and it was Christ whom we found—together, and his presence dependent upon our being together—burning there.” (22-23)

I didn’t understand the brogue of the taxi driver who took me from the train station in Elgin to Pluscarden Abbey, the home of the Benedictine community I was to stay with for the week. I did, however, understand the posh and articulate to the point of theatrical Oxbridge accent of the man who greeted me upon arrival—a young visiting dom, ranked somewhere between priest and monk. “Oh, you’re an Oxford man. Oh, so sorry. I’m a Cambridge man of course, which, as I’m sure you know, is better than Oxford for most things. What college? Wycliffe Hall? OH, so so sorry.” I was surprised and smugly pleased to learn a few days later that the dom was, in fact, a mere New Yorker born and bred who did his undergrad at Cambridge, changed his voice, converted from Episcopalianism, and joined an order.

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der Sommer und der See

I wrote the following essay the summer of last year.

I spent the year in Seattle. It was beautiful, so I’m going back again in September. It would take thirty-six hours to take the two thousand one hundred forty-two mile car route that Google Maps recommends, ferrying over Lake Michigan and then driving through Wisconsin and the five states that make up our Northern border with Canada. But my plane is already booked for September, and I plan to spend junior year in England. That leaves senior year for the long road trip.  It can wait until then.

My college is on the quarter system, so we start and end the year late. Early June was when I breached the overcast sky and soared dutifully home to Grand Rapids. The air has been thick in Grand Rapids this summer. Just about as thick with humidity as Seattle is with clouds and mist—which they call rain. I have been interning with a refugee resettlement agency, and when I leave the chilled office in the afternoon I have to wade through the air to get to my car. By the time I sit down and close the door, the air has covered my clothes so generously that I stick to the driver’s seat. It makes me feel like a fish, covered with raw egg and breadcrumbs, being simultaneously pan-fried and baked in my car. Shocking after months living in the Pacific Northwest, which mainly hovers in the happy range of fifty to seventy-five degrees.

Swimming has become surreal. The sun makes pool water almost as hot as the air outside it, and the air outside it is almost as dense as the pool water. You get the feeling that you could just keep swimming up past the water’s surface and into the sky. But there wouldn’t be any great motivation to do that. You wouldn’t find any mountains to look at, just the water tower. I suppose if you swam high enough, as high as my homebound plane flying over the mountains and rivers of the western states, you might see patterns emerge in the miles of crops. That would be worth it. Or maybe you would get sucked into a jet engine and go home in a different sense of the term. Continue reading

khakis and a cell phone holster

I received a package in the mail today from my father. Still in the mailroom, I cut the cardboard box open. After lifting the top flaps, the first thing I saw in it was a new iPhone case. Without investigating further I closed the box and headed back to my dorm room to finish opening it. I always open my packages in my room. I’m not sure why. It is probably a combination of the fear of losing the package’s contents, the desire to cultivate patience and build suspense, habit, and some sort of animal instinct. Find the antelope. Kill the antelope. Drag the bleeding antelope back to the den. Eat the antelope.

For the record, I’m not sure if animals of prey drag their meals back to the den before dining on them. It has been a long time since elementary school.

When I got back to my room I opened the box again and pulled out the cell phone case. Beneath it was hiding a plastic mailing envelope with a grey pair of khaki pants I knew my dad was planning on buying for me. Rolled up in the pants were two books. One is on Christian living; the other is a discussion on matters of belief and disbelief between a well-educated Christian and a well-educated exChristian atheist. After flipping through them, I put them on my shelf, put on the pants, removed the pants’ tags, and opened the cell phone case. At first glance I thought for sure I was getting an OtterBox, but I was relieved to find something less chunky. It is almost as protective as an OtterBox but it doesn’t have the “Your iPhone is Now a Brick” feature. It is black and it comes with a holster. I shouldn’t assume that sending it to me was my dad’s idea—my mom could’ve done it—but given the other contents of the box and my dad’s practical obsession with protective cases, I’ll go ahead and assume. Continue reading