Where to even begin? There’s a moment at the end of C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian where Peter and Susan tell Edmund and Lucy that they won’t be returning to Narnia. Their time was up. And yet, the elder Pevensies knew they had had their fill and their fun and that it was time to move on. There were more trips to Narnia in store for the younger two, but all the same, Edmund and Lucy, too, were ready to go home—for a while. My time in Oxford began with an immediate immersion in a world I’d long dreamt of but hadn’t dared to imagine actually existed. As an English major and a lover of stories and fantasy, checking into the Stanford House in Oxford last September was a dream come true. I have spent the past five months living mere yards away from where C.S. Lewis returned to his Christian faith and was inspired to write The Narnia Chronicles, a stone’s throw from where Alice in Wonderland was written, and a few blocks away from where the Inklings met and J.R.R. Tolkien studied and taught. The veil between fact and fiction is thin in Oxford and the overlap of worlds both real and imaginary is palpable. There’s something in the air here, something to do with Oxford’s thousands of years of history, tradition of cutting-edge scholarship, scientific discovery, and literary masterpieces. One can’t help but feel that if its’ ancient walls could talk, the stories they’d tell would keep us intrigued for many lifetimes to come. It’s real, and yet, it’s mythical at the same time. One moment, Oxford is Hogwarts, and the next, it’s The Shire. Moments later you feel as if you’ve stumbled down a rabbit hole into Wonderland, or that the picture of Dorian Grey might be lurking behind one of the heavy, stone walls at the end of the corridor. You glance at the lamp post in the mist and feel like Mr. Tumnus might scurry down the street beside you, or as you peer at the vines creeping over the lofty wall, imagine a secret garden just on the other side. Oxford is a place that inspires the mind and stirs the soul, and it’s a place I’ll miss dearly. But like Lucy and Edmund preparing to leave Narnia for their second time, my time is up—for now—but, I have a hunch it won’t be the last time I’ll see this magical city.
A year ago, I was scared and confused as my volleyball career officially ended. It was a long decline, but I found myself one spring day hit with the reality that it was over, that my Olympic dreams would not come to be, and that there would be no professional volleyball contract waiting for me upon graduation. So, on a whim, I decided to apply to Stanford’s study abroad program in Oxford, even though the deadline had passed. I figured it was worth a shot. Studying abroad hadn’t been an option as a D1 athlete and so, when days later I found out I’d been accepted to the program and was going to Oxford in the fall, I was struck by God’s graciousness. He provided me with an opportunity I barely even knew existed. In September, I flew to England and embarked on a journey, one that from the beginning felt a bit like a second chance, a chance to make new memories, have different experiences, and explore other interests. In Michaelmas term (Oxford’s fall term) I studied C.S. Lewis with Dr. Michael Ward. If I didn’t already feel like I was in Narnia, reading almost every C.S. Lewis book was an educational experience that fed my soul as much as it did my mind. Just today, I visited his home, called The Kilns, with my parents and was amazed that I probably could have given the tour. Towards the end of November, I sort of accidentally found myself in the chorus of an Oxford production of Twelfth Night, my first time back on a stage since the end of my childhood theatre endeavors that culminated when I hit 6’0” and volleyball took off in 8th grade. Performing was my first love, and a passion I channeled on the volleyball court. To return to the stage was medicine in a way, reminding me of who I was all those years ago before volleyball got intense and before I had a clue what I even wanted to study. It’s amazing to look back at one’s life and see just how much has changed, but also recognize the things that have stayed exactly the same.
While in Oxford, I had the chance to explore my interest in film, too. I got to produce a short mini-series about sexual assault with a group of Oxford students. While the film is still in post-production, it was incredible to get to be a part of such an important project while abroad. This Hilary Term (Oxford’s winter term) I had two tutorials—one in Old English and one in Screenwriting. Both tutorials were extremely challenging and rewarding. In Old English, I spent the first four weeks of the eight week term taking a crash course in the Old English language while simultaneously translating hundreds of lines of Old English poetry. I wrote essays, too, beginning the second week and came away a bit brain-fried but intrigued by the language and further amazed by Anglo-Saxon literature. In my screenwriting tutorial, I spent the first few weeks writing short scripts. However, in the final three weeks of the term, I began and completed a feature-length screenplay. As my first feature-length screenplay, and as it was written in an insanely short period of time, I’ll be filing this one away as a reminder that it can be done despite the fact that the script is a long way from great. I lived this term a bit like a hermit, locked in my room writing furiously in what I lovingly (sometimes loathsomely) referred to as my writer’s lair. However, after basically learning Old English in a week and churning out 120 pages of a screenplay in the course of eight weeks, I’m headed back to the US a bit exhausted but also ready to take on whatever God has in store for me next. Post-brain injury, it is often scary to think about my future. There are days I can’t get out of bed and weeks where migraines seem omnipresent. There are still days where I can’t stop crying and moments where it seems impossible to carry on. But, God is walking me through this new chapter of my life, allowing me to suffer, and also helping me flourish and grow. As I prepare to leave Oxford in the morning, I am counting my blessings and feel totally overwhelmed by how lucky I am that what felt like an impossible obstacle and major loss was the very thing that allowed me to come to Oxford. Oxford has stretched me and challenged me in many ways, and soothed and healed me in others.
So, my time is up. I can’t help but feel a sense of loss that after tomorrow, I’ll no longer be waking up and walking out the door onto High Street. And yet, I can’t help but look forward to a giant kale salad and acai bowl when I get home. I’m going to miss the friends I’ve made here so much it hurts, but I’m looking forward to seeing my friends back in California. Oxford will forever be a part of my story, a part I’ll look back on fondly for years to come. Stanford, I’m coming for ya! Goodbye, Oxford. Don’t forget me.
“I have passed through fire and deep water, since we parted. I have forgotten much that I thought I knew, and learned again much that I had forgotten.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
The Book Club Reading List