So. I haven’t really done anything particularly noteworthy in the past week. Shocker, huh? With the exception of my beloved Vikings coming to town and gracing us all with a victory (and all the fans in purple and gold slept with smiles across our “Minnesota Nice” faces), this week has been as nonchalant and nondescript as a pair of loafers. I walked. I talked. I ate. I slept. Ta-da.
That is not to say, however, that my mind was not the typical buzzing beehive of thoughts that I know it to be. On the contrary, this in-betweener week of catching my breath after Paris and gearing up for a long weekend in Italy has had my brain working overtime. So since I don’t have much to report on what’s been going on in the world around me, I’ll give you a peek at what’s been going on in the world within me.
I don’t know about you, but when life slows down for a minute, it’s as if my brain feels the need to pick up the slack. Not just pick up the slack… more like grab the baton and sprint the final leg of the 4x100m relay. It’s as if there’s a little person inside my brain who takes a look around, notices there’s not a whole lot going on, then proceeds to throw a house party and fill my brain with a hundred new guests to jump on my couches and break my family heirlooms. Things to think about, you know?
One of those things would be school. For those who aren’t aware, the world of academia in England is run far differently than it is in the States. At home, I am used to a grading system broken down into numerous assessment categories. Like any normal student, I’ve always seen homework and quizzes as a necessary evil. You know that phrase, “You never know what you have until it’s gone”? Well I sure do, and all I can say is never again will I resent that portion of my grade. I have tasted and seen a course grade that is divided in half. HALF. An entire semester rides on one 3000-word paper and one two-hour final exam. And here’s the catch: they still assign homework. And they still expect it to be done, lest your grade suffer. Even though there is not a homework category. There’s a British word for this theory; it starts with a “B” and rhymes with “frolics.”
So there’s that. Those 13,000 words and eight hours of testing on goodness knows what. They hang over my head, swinging back and forth like a pendulum. Eventually the day will come when I actually must do these things, and that is perhaps the worst part. Eventually. Not now, but in the future. And in the present all I can really manage to do as of late is worry about them. And about anything else I can come up with.
William Shakespeare (only fitting to quote him while writing from his homeland) once coined a phrase for this phenomenon. More than that, he wrote an entire comedy on it (the operative word being “comedy”). Much ado about nothing. Loosely translated, this saying refers to a whole lot of freaking out over something that really doesn’t matter one bit in the grand scheme of things. It happens to the best of us, really. We stare at the present, fail to see a solution, the wheels fall off, and sometimes we burst into tears over not having a plastic folder. That happened to a friend once.
Here’s what I mean. All too often throughout this week, I have found myself using silly amounts of mental energy on things other than the present moment. When I find myself with free time, I am constantly making a mental checklist of all the things I need to accomplish in the next few days. As I go down the list, the items never fail to trip me up. I start to freak out about my lack of progress on papers due at the end of the semester (which, yes, is an area of valid concern, but should not be awarded nearly as much apprehension as I’ve been giving it) and then I freak out about not knowing where to even begin. And after all this emotional energy’s been spent I look down and realize that all I have to show for my efforts is a vacant Word Doc and a blinking cursor.
When I’m not worrying about school, I’m worrying about money and how much it costs to even breathe in London. Every time I swipe my card and work out a rough pounds-to-dollars conversion in my head, I cringe. Then make mental notes as to how on earth I will ever survive at this rate. (Is pick-pocketing inherently frowned upon as a practice? Asking for a friend.) I really am being frugal. Honest. Even ask my dad. His eyes are on my bank account like white on rice. Nonetheless, I face the greatest woe of every study abroad student: money running from my wallet as if it’s the nose of a sick kid with a sinus infection. Terrible visual, but I think you catch my drift.
I’m not always worrying though. (Really, I’m quite fun, I promise.) Sometimes I’m wishing. Especially when I see things in London that launch me into a spell of nostalgia. I’ll be strolling through Hyde Park with great friends on a beautiful fall day, and then something about the crisp fall air will have me craving September in Minnesota, sipping coffee with my mom in Adirondack chairs outside by the fire pit. I’ll pass a Christmas display, and instantly I’m imagining the elation I will feel when I’m reunited with the people I love come December. (And yes, you heard right. It is October 1st and the British have already begun to deck the halls. Too soon.) I’ll grab a tray in the caf, frown at the poor excuse for a meal, and quickly find myself wishing for my mom’s cooking. I’ll chat with friends and family from home and find myself counting down the days until I can talk to them face-to-face. I’ll be wishing I was elsewhere, completely unconscious of the magical place that surrounds me at present.
It’s absurd when you consider it. How do we so easily disregard what is here and now for things past or future or thousands of miles away? Because we choose to. No matter how often we tell ourselves we can multitask, the human mind can hold only one thought at a time. Just one. It can be about anything in the world, but there can only be one.
It will work out, the future. It really will. It has to. I’ve been assured by someone who never breaks His promises that it will. These impending moments, these scary future things that I don’t know how to handle right now, will come along in time. And at that time, I will have what I need to get through them. And once they’ve come to pass, I’ll probably smile and look around for a second and think, “Well that wasn’t so bad after all.”
But that’s the crux of it. Moments come to pass. The good, the bad, and the ugly: they do not last forever. They are gone within the bat of an eye or the snap of a finger. Sometimes we spend those moments tangled up in our own worries, wishes, and wonderings, and we miss out on the present that’s right here before our very eyes. I know for a fact that when December rolls around I won’t want to leave this place. Sure, I’ll be thrilled to return to all that I love about home, but I’ll be just as sad to say goodbye to all that I love about this home-away-from-home. While right now I feel like I have all the time in the world to enjoy London, the realization that this time will come to a stop is daunting. I am nearly a third of the way through my time here, and even as I type that I can hardly believe it is true.
The other day I stumbled across a simple phrase, a mantra, if you will. And like any intelligent twenty-something girl I decided to make it my mantra. At least until I find a new one. This one is for real, though, because I made it my lock screen on my iPhone. I mean business. “Be here now,” it reads. Short. Simple. Profound.
It means, “Your Twitter feed has not changed in the last sixty seconds, but this conversation with these friends around this table in this café will.”
It means, “You’re fine on time, but look up now before you miss the way the sunlight peeks over that lovely brick flat with the red window boxes.”
It means, “I know you want to text your friend at home about this, but save it for later because the sun is shining and we're going on a bike ride in Hyde Park.”
It means, "I know you have a million things to do, but cool your jets. Now is the time to spare thirty minutes for One Direction music videos, because boy bands are good for the soul."
It means, “Yes, your tweet was oh so witty and we’re all loling, really, but the cute waiter would like to know what you’d like for lunch now, please.”
It means, “While your mother is a wise and gracious listener, perhaps you might grab your Bible and your journal instead.”
It means, “Don’t blink. You may never know what magical thing is in store for you right in this very moment.”