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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

To Be Young Was Very Heaven — Prologue

This is a tale of my magical summer adventures when a student many years ago. With my best friend and roommate (I changed my friends’ names) I joined a study abroad program for a short summer term in England. I had not traveled by airplane and am amused to read now how inexperienced and immature I was. But still I find it fun to relive that summer.

To Be Young Was Very Heaven—Wordsworth, The Prelude

Prologue: Flight

4.22 p.m. over St. Louis, Missouri. Grandpa is right. Half the fun of getting some place is in seeing where you’re going. I’m sitting in the middle of five seats, two aisles, and two more seats on the other sides of each aisle. The windows offer me not much more than glimpses of cloud formations. The pilot says we’re just north of Louisville, Kentucky, now, and we are flying into Virginia near Washington D.C. and then up into New York. But for all I can tell, we’re still back out West. I’m stuck in the middle of this huge box being conveyed blindly to New York City, so they say.

I want to see the land beneath! I want to watch this great event—crossing a continent in less than a day—unfolding under my chariot in the sky. Ah well, I’ll walk out into the City and will barely be able to realize it.

As Sari and I stood on the concrete at the tiny airport in Conway, waiting for our friend Wesley to come flying from the capitol city to pick us up, we had a hard time feeling the reality of the moment. Then we saw his little blue and white four-seater Cessna coming toward us and it hit: we’re going to England right now! It was the first trip out of the country for either of us. It was our first long trip, really, anywhere. We’d been to different places around the West, but never east. We’d never even been to Denver. Wes flew us over the mountains and landed us at a gate very close to the terminal we needed to be in for the next leg of our international adventure. We started pinching each other and laughing crazily.

The last night had been very rough. We were all packed and ready when some friends came over late to wish us bon voyage but also to bring us bad news. Tristan Quinn, a good friend and the man Sari had just begun to be interested in, had been killed in a car accident that day. He had run into a parked semi-tractor-trailer on the freeway, they said.

Sari started crying while I retreated into shocked silence. Then a rush of anger swept through me—anger at the news carriers. Couldn’t they have let us go without knowing? But maybe that would have been worse, keeping it from us and revealing it when we got home. Anger at Fate. Why did this have to happen just now, when we were so happy? Logic replaced anger with faith, knowing that not even a sparrow falls without His eye seeing, and I glanced around the room and lit on the picture of Christ on our bulletin board with a caption, What you feel, I share.

Sari started talking through her tears. We wouldn’t be able to tell him about our trip when we got home. We wouldn’t be going to the band concerts in the park on summer Sunday evenings anymore to hear him play. There would be no more impromptu ice-cream-making with him on the front lawn of the little house where we rented the basement apartment. We couldn’t have a repeat of the picnic on our living room floor when it rained. He wouldn’t stop by on the chance Sari would go riding on his motorcycle with him. He wouldn’t be calling us up on Monday afternoons to tell us to be sure to come to our family home evening group that night because he was teaching. And since we were going to miss six weeks in a row, we couldn’t call him up to hear the lessons directly from him when we got home again.

Mutability. The word kept drifting through my thoughts. All things change: things grow, blossom, fade, died, or are cut off earlier than natural expectancy. Indeed, perhaps expectancy itself is against nature, since Nature is so full of chance. We cannot read our scripts ahead of time to rehearse how we will act.

I began to see that the news was not as devastating to Sari as I had feared. She was saddened, but not stricken. Selfishly, I hoped we could be happy about our trip anyway. She expressed her thoughts that despite our sadness at the loss of our good friend, his death brings closer our constant concern with eternal things that make us hold present joys more dear, for such experiences from either end of the spectrum of life—sorrow and joy—enrich us with lessons in feeling both ends at once.

Therefore, she assured me at the big airport that morning, we weren’t being insensitive to loss when we tensed, grinned, and jumped with excitement in our seats on the Cessna. We were more sensitive to everything, she declared, and the bumpy, almost dizzyingly fun ride was just one more of the many things we should be grateful for.

6.15 p.m. over New York. We thought we were landing, but the plane feels like it’s heading up into the sky again. Maybe they’re taking us to Rome. I should explain. We are part of a summer study abroad program, a little program with just a dozen students and two professors, and the wife of one professor and the husband of the other. We will be spending about two weeks studying in London, taking day trips out of London to see things in the surrounding country, and then we will head north to spend two weeks attending the Wordsworth Summer Conference in the Lake District.

7.08 p.m. TWA Flight 700 landed at Kennedy Airport, New York, an hour late. We had to run with our bags bumping our legs the length of the domestic terminal, then across several streets and things to the international terminal, and down the length of that terminal to our gate. I have never experienced such humidity before! It’s absolutely wet!

We are on a plane that lands in London and goes on to Rome. I wasn’t too far from reality, was I? I’m nearer the windows, on an inside aisle seat, so I can see a little bit outside. Wish I could see more. We are eating New England chicken and some are eating filet mignon. My! they sell perfume, scarves, and ties as part of the duty-free merchandise, all designer fashions, of course, but all part of this new experience for me.

The sun will set late for us and will rise early. We’ll feel like it’s 3 a.m. and they’ll tell us it’s 10. Will we obey the call of jet lag and rest, or will be jog around Hyde Park as soon as we’re settled? Ha! Of course we are going jogging!

2.00 a.m. Eastern Time. Our condition is belied. Sunrise was a little over an hour ago. Judy and I spotted land out the windows just now. I wonder if it’s Ireland? Maybe it is Atlantis!

Ah ha. The Captain has spoken. It is not Atlantis—we are getting ready to land. This is England!

8.00 a.m. Heathrow Airport. The signs to the outside say “Way Out” instead of “Exit.” My eyes won’t focus. My! It’s 1 a.m. at home. I wonder if we’re going jogging? I wonder if we’re going to be picked up? Nobody met us! Our director is looking for a telephone.

By Eduard Marmet - Website:, CC BY-SA 3.0,

To be continued!

Links to the next installments:
Part 1: Acclimation
Part II: Education Underway
Part III: Fragments of Past and Present Destruction
Part IV: Weekend out of London
Part V: Pilgrimages
Part VI: The Paint Story
Part VII: My Kingdom for a Yorkshire Moor
Part VIII: Thrown in at the Deep End
Part IX: Wordsworth Conference Ups and Downs
Part X: A Hundred Years Older

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