In just a few days, I will be in England, a place that holds a piece of my heart, and holds a vault of life-changing moments.
I spent only 10 weeks there in the summer of 1985, and turned 18 halfway through my “study” abroad. Everything I learned in the classroom there has vanished from my memory; everything I learned outside those rooms, remains.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, it was a summer that changed the entire trajectory of my life. I had just finished my first year of college in what can only be described as a tower of Jenga blocks crashing onto a glass tabletop. When I left for my freshman year I could not drive fast enough, push the past deep enough, and ride life hard enough.
By the time I arrived in England, I had with me only one visible suitcase; packed into my brain where an additional five, loaded with the pain of my parents’ violent marriage, a divorce that ripped apart my family, broken promises from people who declared they loved me, and lots and lots of unacknowledged pain and anger.
As a writer and former therapist, I visit places in my life through such lenses, defining, explaining, elaborating, translating…
And a wonder crossed my mind today while I walked along the path beside the ocean in Aptos: How could 10 weeks in England in 1985 make such a difference?
As a seventeen year old, 10 weeks feels like forever. As a 51 year old, it feels like a whisper. So, in my analytical mind I wondered: was I magnifying the impact of that summer?
The thing is, we only have moments. Like, right now, I have this moment where I am sitting at my computer as the wind blows through the palms below me. And in an hour, I will have another moment. And so on and so on. And in each of those moments that we are given, we have choices. I can close the window, or let it remain open. We can eat that cake, or deny a simple pleasure. We can go on that date, or remain shut off and in fear. We can set a boundary, or let people walk on our heart and dreams. We can accept the kiss, or we might not be ready. We can slam the door in anger, or admit we are afraid. We can pull the trigger, or we can pick up the phone for help.
So, all of these little moments, seemingly little choices, add up to moment after moment, of events and choices and feelings, and behaviors, and people we let in and people to whom we say, “No thank you.”
And on one of those days back in the summer of 1985, I stepped into Hyde Park for the very first time, playing U2 through a cassette device that had headphones, and I looked at all the beauty around me, drew in a deep breath, and the pain of weeks and months and years descended upon me like a rainstorm. I can’t remember every thought I had, of course, but I remember this one:
“I don’t have to live like this anymore.”
Call it the voice of God, my inner-self, my higher-self—I do think it was God’s voice—but as I stepped into that park, I stepped into grace, and better choices, and freedom, and sadness, and joy, and newfound peace, and, and, and…
I don’t believe in coincidence. I drew loving and joyful people to me that summer. I walked so many miles in parks and neighborhoods and around castle-grounds that I practically ruined my feet. I shut my mouth, and I listened. I tasted humility perhaps for the first time. I felt God’s presence as if he were literally holding my hand.
Ten weeks after I returned to California and returned to college, I felt oddly out of place and adrift. Then, I met someone. And not just someone, but the someone who is coming with me on my trip to England in just a few days. And not just someone, but the someone who has been married to me for 30 years. And not just someone, but someone who stayed with me when I forgot who I was and didn’t love myself. And not just someone, but the someone that I believe God prepared me for during those 10 weeks. All of those moments added up to now...to my messy, beautiful, most-of-the-time joyful marriage to my precious husband.
It’s what life is: a collection of defining moments that bring us to this moment right now. In this moment I feel awe, expectancy, anticipation, and joy.
Just imagine that 17-year-old inside this 51-year-old, holding the hand of the man she’s loved since 1985. For the first time, they’re going to step into Hyde Park together, and I can just hear her whispering,
“This is where it all began…”