Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Easter on the Thames

As Easter approaches this week I can’t help but remember one of my most interesting Easters celebrated. I was living in the basement of a Victorian home at 9 Canterbury Lane, Oxford in the UK. My roommate Joy and I found our little cave to be quite dreary and decided to spruce it up for the weekend. Saturday morning we filled the “dungeon” with all sorts of flowers before setting off on a walk down the Thames River. We dined at a favorite spot, “The Trout,” before slowly making our way back into the city. We showered and then found St. Mary’s Cathedral as the sun was going down. We then traveled to St. Aldate’s for an evening service before hurrying home to try and sleep knowing our alarm would ring at 5:00am.

Sure enough, I couldn’t fall asleep and felt as though 5:00 came even before I had closed my eyes. Joy and I dressed and then ran to the Thames…quite literally. Joy is my dear friend who was quite clearly born in the wrong century. I even refer to her as “Joy the hopeless romantic.” We raced the entire route in hopes of watching the sun come up over the spires of Oxford. Within 15 minutes it became clear that the morning would not be presenting us with the magnificent sunrise we were hoping for. The mist rolled in and the cows were beginning to become quite comfortable with our presence. Joy pulled out the Gospels and we read of Peter and John running to the tomb. We sat bundled along the path, our teeth chattering, and growing wetter by the minute.

As we sat, thankful for the day, but quite miserable on the wet ground, we began to see a figure in bright orange drawing closer to us. The woman had shoulder length grey hair and looked to be in her 60’s. She walked straight up to us and said, “You look cold and wet. Would you like some coffee?” This was intriguing on so many levels. We weren’t used to having any of the British approach us and speak in such a way, and to offer coffee instead of tea no less! We took one look at each other and agreed to follow this woman. We soon learned that the woman’s name was Barbara and that she was 64 years young and had been born in Blackburn, Lancashire. She had one brother and one sister and was divorced with two sons and a daughter. She had called Oxford her home for the past 24 years, although she had never been there for more than 2 years at a time. Barbara studied German at University and was now teaching Latin, French, English, and German at various schools around the world. Her travels and positions had given her seven years in Bangkok, two in Frankfurt, one in Australia, and six months in Mexico. Thus her studies and travel had also taught her Tai, Italian, Hebrew, Spanish, and a bit of Arabic. She had lived the past three winters in Jerusalem teaching English.

Joy and I couldn’t believe our luck. What an amazing person to run into. When we arrived at her small flat she asked us to remove our shoes. I thought it was to preserve her lovely hard wood floors, but soon came to find out that it had become habit for her since living in Bangkok. Barbara told us to make ourselves at home and we began to poke about the place. I remember the room being very light and airy with plenty of windows. The walls and shelves were filled with pictures and art from all of her travels. Joy and I kept looking up at each other and mouthing “Oh my goodness!”

Barbara finally called us to the table after a bit. Not only did we find coffee, but we were also delighted to find a spread of scones, jams, fruit, olives, and breads. As we enjoyed our breakfast, Barbara allowed us to continue with our very American questions. I asked her what the three most important things were in the world to her. She proceeded to explain that her choices included family, friends world-wide (languages and travel), as well as moral principles. She explained that she did not hold to a religious faith, although she sometimes attended the local cathedral. When she has a bad day she turns on her classical music and makes herself a cup of coffee and then proceeds to go through her pictures and memories of her journeys. She also said that she wakes up early in the morning and reads her old journals before taking her clearing walks along the Thames.

Eventually Joy and I had to make our good-byes in order to at least change for morning services. We thanked her repeatedly for such a delightful morning and she responded to say that perhaps she would go to mass that day.

Happily I returned to visit Barbara several more times before leaving Oxford. It really feels like the whole thing could have been a dream. Had I been on my own that cold morning, I might be inclined to think that I had dozed off with the cows. Thankfully the experience and the memories are real.

Happy Easter! He is Risen indeed.


Sarah said...

Ginger, I'm David's sister, Sarah. We've met before. I found this blog through a comment you left on David's blog a while ago. I haven't commented yet, because I don't always have anything to say! Also, with the three little girls, I usually only have time to read things and quickly! (That's why my blog is dying...I just don't have the time or care to make the time for it!) Anyway, back to topic - I just wanted to thank you and Valerie because you have encouraged me. The two previous posts were perfect...just what I needed! Thank you! Please continue your writing because in all it's silliness and seriousness it's well done! =)

Ginger said...

Sarah - thank you for leaving a note! I'm glad you've enjoyed reading. I remember meeting you and also recall David's excitement at the birth of your first daughter! Congratulations on the other two!