As I found myself gazing out the rain-spattered window at Edinburgh Airport awaiting my departing flight back home yesterday morning, I found it difficult to believe that my penultimate semester at St Andrews had ended. While I am certainly relieved to have finished all of my coursework, I find the emotions I am currently feeling difficult to articulate. “Seven down, one to go,” has been pinging around in my skull like a trapped fly, insistently reminding me that I really do only have one more semester left at St Andrews. Odd, considering as I recall the moment I first set foot in St Salvator’s Quad as clearly as the droplets I saw cascading down the glass.
As I am now sitting by the Christmas tree at home, hoping desperately for snow (instead of this rain I seemingly can’t escape), for the first time in my life I feel more like a guest in my parents’ home rather than it being myhome too. Over the past few years my family has moved around quite a bit back in the Midwest. In my Bilbo way, as a comfortable home is one of the things I treasure most, this has been a rather difficult period in my life. Yet while these difficulties unfolded back home, I always had St Andrews to return to. Now when I walk around the too-square city blocks and look at all the cookie-cutter homes, it doesn’t feel right somehow, and I cannot escape the feeling that I am really just visiting. Perhaps this feeling has arisen because of another thought simmering at the back of my mind while I contemplate post-St Andrews life: the fear of returning to the Midwest. I cannot help but feel that returning after making such a hoopla about adventure and living abroad would be anti-climactic somehow. And for someone who admittedly indulges in the dramatic here and there, there’s nothing I do indeed fear more than an anti-climax.
Such feelings, combined with the simple beauty of Scotland and the kindness of its people, has made St Andrews truly feel like home for me. The little river burbling along Lade Braes, the whiskey sun flowing over the farm hills in the evening, and the haar tiptoeing through the cathedral ruins: I have fallen irrevocably in love with all that St Andrews is over the past four years. Even looking beyond the St Andrews town limits to the craggy Highlands or the quiet lap of the waves near the cliffs of the Isle of Skye, I can see parts of my soul tucked away in all these bits of Scotland. While I am excited to see where my next step takes me, the thought of leaving these things behind has opened a small fissure in my heart.
Making the decision to attend St Andrews seems like a lifetime ago, at a time when I think I was a completely different person than I am today, yet it threw my life into a strong current that has completely swept me away. As I wrote in my previous post, I once thought that my time at St Andrews was the “big moment,” that it would be my defining feature as I returned to the U.S. and settled into a routine existence. Yet now I find routine confining, as all I really want to spend my days doing is moseying about, seeing things and talking to all the different kinds of people I encounter along my way. Rather than St Andrews being the entirety of my story, I now find myself hoping that it really will be merely one chapter in a great many. Indeed, “adventure” has become the word that I want to define who I am and the course my life has taken.
I also think that this idea, “adventure,” is what is making my attempt to plan a life after university so difficult. While going to graduate school and working towards a Master’s or Doctorate sounds interesting, and at my heart I do really love to learn, I am almost wary to spend another substantial part of my life trapped in the comings and goings of an academic routine, confined to the library and married to my work. A small voice deep within my heart keeps whispering to me as I ponder these things that I can still satisfy my love of learning out there, out in the world and amongst its people. Instead of Googling viable postgraduate universities I wander off in my searches, punching “Norwegian lighthouse jobs” or “horseback safari tour guide South Africa” into the search bar rather than what I should be looking for. Yet deep down, I think this is what I am looking for.
Lately I have been saying that my life ambition is to be an old, old lady with plenty of stories to tell. You know the type: the eccentric great aunt at family parties who occasionally comes out with true zingers, of the wild times in her youth and the amazing things she has seen. This is the heart of where this word “adventure” truly comes in. It is my hope that I will live a completely full life, that I never once regretted a single thing that I did and instead took every opportunity to learn about myself, the world around me, and the people who join me for the ride. Recently I stumbled across this quote:
“For what it’s worth … it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of…”
As I will be celebrating twenty-two in a few days, I find these words to be rather poignant for this transitional period of my life: a new age, a new year, and new possibilities as I graduate from St Andrews in June. I have no idea who I am or who I want to be, only that I want to be startled and to feel as deeply as I can, as these words suggest. And I am beginning to learn what it means to take pride in myself. This is where I think “seven down, one to go” becomes important. I have very nearly completed my degree combined with the small challenges that come with living abroad. At times I cannot believe that I, small and Midwestern, could have possibly achieved something like that. Yet not only have I merely “done” it, but done so while taking the time to explore, to challenge myself outside of the classroom, and to live in a way that I once thought was only a fantasy from my books. While I have my reservations about actually completing my degree in June, and all these speculations becoming a reality, I am slowly starting to realize that perhaps there will truly be another great adventure awaiting. What I am beginning to take pride in is the fact that I do not think that I will settle for a path that my heart is not truly invested in, and that I will work as hard as I can to do all it is that I hope to do to become that old, old lady with all the stories. Perhaps all I need to do then is relax, and let the answer to the riddle of where I will be this time next semester startle me indeed.
For now, though, I will settle into my armchair with a good book and Bear tucked by my side. After a very long semester with essays on mermaids and Sleeping Beauty, many stories written, and even a wedding attended back in October, I think I owe it to myself to stop and soak it all in. Wishing the best of the holiday season to all those who read this, and may your days be merry and bright.
Originally written 21 December 2015