Four years ago, the words “the beginning of the end” could conjure images of the first snowflakes on a pale November morning, or reading a favorite story for the very first time. What these three experiences have in common is a moment — the intake of breath and a smile — in which enchantment with the anticipation for what is to come takes hold. Four years ago, the experience of beginning my last semester of high school was distilled with this kind of breathlessness, because each passing day brought me closer to Scotland. The magic of this experience was, paradoxically, what I once thought was just a dream becoming a tangible part of my waking life. I could not wait to turn the page on this part of my story, from the prologue to the blank pages under “Chapter One: St Andrews,” too tantalizingly pristine. All I managed to do in those final few classes was daydream, picturing myself tramping through the wild Scottish glens, hair tangled with the crisp Highland air. Four years ago, “the beginning of the end” could only make me smile.
Today those words hold a different meaning, evident perhaps in the tardiness of this post about beginning my final semester at St Andrews. I almost cannot bring myself to acknowledge the fact that this is it, and there have certainly been times when I (quite wishfully) forget it. However, the things that should be the most significant indicators of this approaching end, like the words “Graduation Day!” marked brazen and red upon my calendar, actually do very little to make me remember. Rather, it’s smaller, simpler details — the last quavering note of a fiddle, the snowdrops blanketing the hills of Lade Braes, or tweed caps tipped in greeting during my morning walk — that reach right into my chest and steal my heart strings away. These are the little moments that make me remember how soon I may have to leave them behind. And for what, I am not altogether sure.
I began this semester with uncertainty, like the darkling horizon heralding a storm. I oscillated between appreciating simple joys, like a view of the sea from my favorite desk in the library or the word “aye” used in casual conversation, to remembering that this cloud was looming ever nearer, which ultimately dampened my spirits and left me in tears more nights than I care to admit. Where am I going to go when I graduate, what am I going to do, how am I going to be able to leave Scotland, will I be forgotten by everyone here: such questions were the rains that this cloud begot. In the midst of all this I stumbled upon the following quote by Roald Dahl:
I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.
These words had nearly the same effect on me as all the little details of my Scottish life: they stopped me in my tracks. For me they encompass all that I hope to accomplish in these final few months I have on Scottish soil: to give a resounding “aye” to as many experiences as possible, no matter how whimsical, messy, or outrageous they may be. As a result, I have created for myself a Fourth Year Bucket List.
There are those who think bucket lists are generally quite silly. And I confess the list that I currently have in mind is indeed absurd, overly sentimental, and ambitious. There are things that I admittedly do not have the means to accomplish, like horseback riding on West Sands or visiting all of the quaint villages and castles my heart desires while I am still in the United Kingdom. Yet just two weeks into the semester I was already crossing something off that list.
On the way home from the annual BUCS cross country event, held this year in Gloucestershire, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the village of Bibury in The Cotswolds. Part of the reason why I so desperately wished to visit Bibury was that it was used as a location in one of my most beloved films: Stardust (this film is also the reason why I love snowdrops so very much, but that is a story for another time).
Tucked sleepily away amongst the velvety green farm hills of Gloucestershire, Bibury is every bit as picturesque and charming as an English village ought to be. Flitting amongst the snowdrops and the river meandering along the walking path, I felt my “Maggie Smile” stretching foolishly across my face, and found it difficult to suppress it. Though Bibury is a tourist destination, I still found myself thoroughly enjoying its quaint, quiet charm. More than that, though, the experience of seeing the kind of place that I once thought only existed in my imagination, living and breathing in what should have been a dream world, made my soul so incredibly warm.
But what I think made this adventure special was the generosity and patience of my teammates who agreed to journey with me to Bibury in the first place. I keep reminding myself how easily they could have dismissed my idea, citing Monday morning lectures, silly Maggie whimsy, or just plain and simple exhaustion as reasons not to venture out of our way. While this would have disappointed me, I could respect their desire. But they didn’t dismiss me, and instead took the time to wander those quiet little lanes while I frolicked merrily about.
This sentiment, I think, is what exists at the heart of my Fourth Year Bucket List. It’s not so much doing these things to say that I have done them, or because I may not have another opportunity to do so in the near future. Rather, it’s the joy of experiencing these things for the first time as the person I am now and feeling that joy with the people I have chosen to share this part of my life with, and they with me. The thoughts or emotions these experiences conjure for myself and the wonderfully unique people I have come to know are what I have come to value most about my time here in Scotland.
When I tell people the particulars of my Fourth Year Bucket List, some of them react by saying that there a certain points that could be accomplished if I waited a bit. There are places I could see, castles to tour, restaurants to dine in that would be more feasible if I returned to Scotland in my later adult life. While I do agree — and most certainly consider my return ticket to the States more so as a “see you later” than a definite goodbye to Scotland — I think these sentiments detract from the point of my bucket list. In essence, my Fourth Year Bucket List is my way of not being lukewarm, of embracing every inch of Scotland as widely as my wingspan allows. What I hope to remember for the rest of my life is not necessarily the doing of all these things, but the feeling in the exact moment of the experience and how it was shared with all the weird and wonderful people I have come to care so deeply about here at St Andrews as we are right now: young, uncertain, wild, messy, enchanted, and passionate. For this is the ultimate item on my Fourth Year Bucket List: to celebrate the past four years as whole-heartedly and enthusiastically as they deserve with the people who have been there through it all.
So I sign this post off eager for my next adventure, as well as in salute to the ones I have already been so fortunate enough to have. Here’s to muddy-legged, spring fed, tangled hair, damp leafed, fisherman sweater-clad joy like none other, and I can’t wait for even more.