Crying on public transport is always a bit embarrassing and it had been a while since I’d done it. Nonetheless, as I curled up on the Oxford Tube earlier this evening and watched the snowy surrounds of the M40 whizzing past, I found the tears streaming uncontrollably down my face.
It was dark, the coach was fairly empty and my mascara was waterproof. I think I got away with it.
I cried because I was probably feeling a bit post-viral and ready for Reading Week.
I cried because I’d caught up with a lot of good friends and hated the fact that they were no longer just around the corner, even though Oxford is right next door to London in the grand scheme of things. I cried because for every friend I miss in Oxford there are many others all around the world who are not so immediately accessible.
I cried because I was feeling a bit rose-tinted about Oxford and the fact that it’s so small and local and you chat to strangers. Just the day before, I’d ended up in a random conversation in Costas on Cowley Road with a fascinating couple. After a long chat in Urdu, they finally turned to me and said they’d been trying to work me out. Was I a PhD student? (I was, surprise surprise, studying). It turned out that he was doing a PhD in Pakistani politics. We did the whole 6 degrees of separation thing and worked out people we knew in common. They’d just come from the Farmers Market for which she mass-produces samosas each week. How’s that for a good point to ponder for my multiculturalism essay? We talked about how the area had evolved over the years. How East Oxford itself was a recent invention; changing from the dodgy Cowley of some years ago to the ‘new Jericho’ of today, inhabited by wealthier, trendier, more organic types. The sort of people, she said, who would pay a fiver for a loaf of bread in the Farmers Market when you could get it for a fraction of the price in Tesco. But I digress. The point is you don’t really chat to strangers in London, and I miss it.
I cried because my good friend and ex-housemate Amy is actually and finally leaving and moving overseas. It’s been a bit of a journey and one that I’ve walked part of the way with her. However, it was only today that I realised she was really properly going. I was suddenly struck by the fact that she has been a really significant friend in the past few years, that she’s embarking on a pretty enormous adventure, and that I’m going to miss her.
I cried because seeing her sent out and commissioned brought up a lot of stuff, not just about her but about me and where my life is going. On the one hand, I am utterly convinced that where I am now is the right place. I love what I’m doing and what I’m learning and who I am. And the exhortation from the front rather seemed to endorse the idea that most of us should stay. Nonetheless, I felt that same old stirring in my heart telling me to go. While I can – and do – love and connect in the UK with the people who Amy will be working with overseas, does that make it right to stay if I would be more than willing and able to go?
I cried at my frustrations with the sermon’s call to make a ‘strategic’ difference here. I suppose that’s because I still can’t get my head around that word. People in Oxford are quick to hype up the city’s ‘strategic’ nature; the abundant opportunities to connect with the world’s ‘movers and shakers’ and to invest in those with the positions and power to shape global reality in the years to come. It always sort of makes me shudder: who decides what/who is ‘strategic’ anyway? I have recently reconnected with a friend who’s living in community with detoxing addicts in the back of beyond in China. ‘It’s very primal’, he wrote, ‘because all the higher order stuff like vision, dreams, goals, outreach, life balance gets filtered out, and what the guy is going through or seeing for the first time stands centre stage. Which drags everyone back down to the bedrock themes of grace, and father’s love, and self-sacrifice, the cross, hope etc etc.’ I cried because sometimes I feel like we – well, I – overcomplicate things and forget the power and simplicity of Jesus’ love. I cried because in a high-pressured academic environment I am putting a whole heap of pressure on myself to nail this masters when really I can only do my best.
Pondering the global and the local, staying and going, planned and spontaneous, grassroots and …. urm, what’s the opposite of grassroots?? (academic???), I realised that I don’t think that any of these things are mutually exclusive. I suppose I was crying because sometimes – for the sake of less pain? – we buy into the dichotomies when they’re really not all that helpful. To be honest, I was probably just crying because I have no idea where I’ll be this time next year and it’s been one of those days when living by sight not by faith appears to be a whole lot easier.
As the tears flowed – sorrowfully, irritatingly, self-indulgently, unstoppably, somewhat cathartically – down my face, I remembered what had happened to Aidan, my five and a half year old godson, at lunchtime. In the middle of a crowded hall, he’d dropped and smashed his food-laden china plate. Surprised by the unexpected crash and the fact that a roomful of grown-ups shut up and stared at him, he’d stood there in a bit of shock. His lip wobbled and he looked alone and little and lost and unsure what to do. I happened to be next to him and bent down to give him a hug. His dad came running over to do the same. He told him that it was ok, that it didn’t matter, and that he was there.
Crying on the bus, I suddenly saw myself as that child who’d managed to let things come crashing down around her and was having a wobble as a result. But in the vulnerability of that tear-stained Oxford Tube moment, I also glimpsed myself through the eyes of the One who sees me as his little girl; who counts my tears, who comes running over to stand with me in the mess, and who reassures me of his presence in that still small voice.
After Aidan’s plate incident, we all trooped home in the snow. The minute we were through the front door he was explaining the intricacies of the lego game he’d invented, drawing a picture with me, showing me his dance moves, wanting to play on my team in Scattegories, curling up on my knee and grinning at me. As much as I was enjoying everything he was saying and doing, I knew that I’d love him and be proud of him whatever. He didn’t need to impress me, or prove himself to me or – in fact – do anything other than just be himself. And how much more is that true of the One who sees me, knows me, loves me, and delights in me as I put my trust in him.
Off to bed now. Blow my nose, drink some Sleepy Tea, wipe away the make-up that hasn’t been cried off, and decide not to worry about all that tomorrow has in store. After all, tomorrow will worry about itself and today has had enough trouble of its own.
1 My heart is not proud, LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed myself
and quieted my ambitions.
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
3 Israel, put your hope in the LORD
both now and forevermore.