I have a vision of Oxford life built entirely on stories from my friends’ time studying, a series of engaging but poorly-written novels, and a handful of memoirs. My vision features endless pots of tea and tasty scones by cozy fireplaces. I spend my days dreamily wandering meadows along river banks pondering life’s great questions, or tucked away in Radcliffe Camera surrounded by dusty books writing treatises on those great questions of life, love, community, and faith. My vision is filled with people-of-the-race-who-know-Joseph: reading people, writing people, thinking people. We meet over pots of tea or a pint in the evening and chat through the day’s questions. People float in and out as time wears on and conversation grows fuller and deeper.
I think I’d like this life very well.
What are not in my vision are the heartaches of life: stress, financial concerns, homelessness, racism, death, illness, being far from loved ones, and everything else. These are not lovely things to dream about; indeed, dreams are meant to transport us from harshness to a place of beauty and peace. Yet, facing reality does not mean relinquishing dreams nor does it mean utterly despairing of reaching that beautiful, peaceful place. It means holding lightly to the dream while working to heal the heartaches of life.
I visited Oxford for thirty-six hours in June. Students celebrated the end of examinations and gowned graduates roamed the colleges. Lewis and Tolkien enthusiasts thronged The Eagle and Child. I wandered alone for that time, caught between two separate accommodations and the free internet at museums. The dreamy spires captured my imagination and meadows invited my early morning ambles. My pot of tea came with a scone at the Vaults & Garden cafe in the shadow of Radcliffe Camera. Yet, for a bit I sensed a great lack–the community of people with whom to share this taste of Oxford life. (A second coffee and a bit of chat with my mom restored my usual good humour.)
Then, I stepped back to think on the linchpins of my vision: good food and drink, pretty places to walk, kindred spirits with whom to ponder life, books to read and things to write. Removed from the geographic context of Oxford, my vision could truly be of many places. I thought longer. The details of my vision and actual day-to-day life began to merge.
I have no need to wait for Oxford to begin living out my vision. I can wander through the forested hills of the park in the next neighbourhood, and read and write in the hushed chill of the beautiful Library of Congress. My housemates and I host meals with open invitations, sometimes with twenty or more people through the door. I read good books and write about the ideas they put in my head. Most importantly, this all happens in a community of people-of-the-race-who-knows-Joseph and is the linchpin of merging my day-to-day from vision to reality. We push each other outside ourselves to work towards healing the heartaches of life in our work and in our play. Faced with a financial need, the vulnerability of loneliness, any need of anyone, we strive towards healing the heartache practically, emotionally, and spiritually.
My vision of Oxford life is perhaps ill-informed, but it inspires me nonetheless. It helps me focus on what matters–the Good, the True, and Beautiful–in the face of heartaches. My soul is fed in community as we worship, read, write, think, and eat together. Together, we face the reality of working towards the Kingdom.08