Sunday, October 25, 2015

My hands to serve, my heart to learn. [Michaelmas Week 2]

These last couple of weeks have been full of classes, lectures, social activities, epiphanies, and serendipitous meetings. It's been a ride, that's for sure. I was talking to a friend and he was saying that it was starting to feel less like he's "at Oxford," and more like he's "at school."

I agree. It is starting to feel more like school as the term progresses and readings pick up. I am starting to get a sense of how fast this term will move--I have a feeling that I will be left breathless by the end of it. But I am looking forward to the challenge.

My hands are busy, but my heart is full. And even though the grandeur of Oxford is stunning, it is not the location or the architecture which inspires me. It is the people I associate with. There are amazing people here who genuinely want to make the world a kinder, better place and who have plans to do so. And it is conversations with these kinds of people which remind me of my purpose and why I am studying here. Not to glorify myself, but to reach out and use my talents to lift others.

[Arabesque in the cloisters.]

[The "Kissing Gate" between Christ Church Meadows and Corpus Christi]

 [Eagle and Child. I had a wonderful conversation here with a visiting professor on Friday, and we were both giddy about the fact that we were having an intellectual discussion where Lewis and Tolkien had their intellectual conversations. She was especially excited about it, and humbled to be back to Oxford after many years.]

I am enjoying my program. I think it will be a perfect way for me to develop myself as a historian as I come to better understand and articulate historical debates, as well as giving me research time for my own topic. The people in my program are great, and I have been very impressed with the seminars and lectures. For example, on Friday I went to a seminar/panel about the state of higher education in the United States. It was so insightful and it left me both wanting to know more about these issues and then find solutions for them. It also inspired me to become more articulate while speaking. There were some powerful speakers up there and I want to be able to voice my opinions in a coherent manner like them. 

I've also enjoyed my associations with people here and the interesting Oxonian traditions I get to participate in. My college is fantastic. I love how small Corpus Christi is--I feel like I am getting to know people in my college, and not only students, but professors and the President, too. The President of Corpus actually hosted a play reading at his home this week. I decided to go, because WHY NOT. I'm glad I did. Not only are the President and his wife delightful hosts (and just all-around good people), but we read The Merchant of Venice. I got to play Portia during the famous trial scene. I'm not saying I did a particularly good job of it, but it still made me giddy. I was playing Portia. In Oxford. With legitimate Shakespearean actors. Dreams do come true in the city of dreaming spires. 

[My eyes say it all. I am happy to be here.]

There are a lot of good things to do here. It can be overwhelming with the amount of material I have to learn--and the number of events/activities I could be doing--but I am also learning the value of presentness. Tolstoy was right. In order to live a fulfilling life, we have to embrace and actually live in the moment. That doesn't mean we live for the moment in a "YOLO" sort of way. But we have to be mentally and emotionally present in our interactions with others. Those moments where we are truly present--both in the quotidian and profound--are what make life good to the very center. 

I like it here, but that doesn't mean that things are perfect. I think we can often have the idea (especially as Americans) that life in Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, etc. is like living in a dream. Honestly, it's life. And that means ups and downs, doubts, fears, peace, friends, loneliness, everything. I had some interesting moments this week where I felt poshlost'. It's a theme that features in many Russian novels. Nabokov described it as "not only the obviously trashy, but mainly the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive." I felt that this week. There was a moment this week where I felt like I had just stepped into a Gogol novel--which, if you're going to be in any Russian novel, you probably don't want to be in a Gogol novel. Or any Russian novel, really. Things usually don't turn out so well for you. 

Anyway, I felt that emptiness that comes from banality, and it surprised me. But I think recognizing that poshlost' for what it is has inspired me to do something about it and make changes to myself and reach out to others to combat it. Not that I'm perfect at doing that. But I have done a lot of soul-searching this week, and that struggle is leading to something good, meaningful, and purposeful. 

I truly believe there is growth that comes from the struggle. The key is that we keep moving forward. 

And I am finding my place and purpose here, one step at a time, for which I am grateful. 


  1. Your posts are always so wonderful! Keep writing, Megan!

  2. I totally understand--on a lot of levels. We had very few downs while in Cambridge, mostly ups, but it was so great having it be our LIFE. And I'm beyond thrilled and extremely jealous that you are doing all the "why not" things there. Shakespeare in England is just better, isn't it? :)

  3. I've been thinking lately that I could obtain more joy from life by embracing where I am, and really being present. Love you lots! You thoughts are beautiful, and you already sound more English in your vocabulary. :)

  4. 26 Oct 2015
    Happy Birthday, my dearest granddaughter. Enjoy the joy. How amazing you are. Love, Grandma