It is cold today, and quiet; the boys are taking a nap, having had a late night last night. I, unable to nap, am enjoying the stillness and a cup of Earl Grey, which smells like England.

I wonder why God built me with such an intense desire to travel when I so rarely am able to do so? I have a friend who would be content to stay home, cocooned in her house in Pipe Creek forever. For her, anything north of the Red River is considered "yankee," and anyone who lives in "yankee territory" is a freak of nature. We have joked often about her having a prejudice for non-Texans, and she has no desire to visit anyplace that isn't small-town Texas. Every so often I ask her, "But don't you want to see Europe? Australia? Ecuador? Oklahoma?" "No thanks," she says. It freaks me out. I am sure she is not well emotionally. She probably needs hypnotherapy. She must have some blocked childhood alien abduction issues or something. She would rather just stay home. The tragedy of it all to me is that she has the financial means and the opportunity to see the world many times over, literally. It simply does not interest her. I cannot fathom such an insular existence. To each his own, right?

I have an intense need to go, to see new things, to breathe in new places and people and flavors and sounds. I crave the British Isles. I must see Australia before I die. I need to go to Belize just once. And oh, how I miss Wyoming! At times I ache so badly for the mountains that I feel that my heart will burst. Last year, when we went to Colorado, I cried at first sight of the Sangre de Christo range. It had been ten years since I had seen real mountains. I don't know how I made it so long without them.

All it takes is a tiny thing, like the smell of Earl Grey tea, to set me off. As I sit at my desk on this cold, damp, cloudy day sipping my tea, I am pining away for Oxford. When I was in college, I took a two-week course over Christmas break with some classmates and my favorite Lit professor, Dr. Smith. On one of our free days, Dr. Smith took some of us on a day trip to Oxford. Dr. Smith and three of us broke off from the group to go exploring. It was Sunday and the town was mostly closed, but we walked around Magdalen College, wandering through courtyards and peeking in windows and talking about C.S. Lewis, in awe that we were walking the very grounds he walked, amazed at the history of it all. Through one of the courtyards, we found a hidden gate, rusty and ancient and wise, and behind it a walking path along the perfectly emerald-green river. It was magical and secret, and utterly peaceful. I remember being impressed with how green the grass was for December, and we watched the mallards idle by in the river and Dr. Smith recited Shelley and Wordsworth and we sighed at the beauty of it all. It was marvelous. I was so full of England and poetry and history and life that it was almost too much. We remained there as long as we could, knowing that this was one of those "moments," and we soaked it in.

Around 3:30, we decided to head back to the city centre for tea. It was getting dark and we had an hour or so before we had to catch the train, so we ducked into a little cafe and ordered our cream tea. It was close to closing time, so the four of us were the only people in the place. We doctored up our tea, laughed at Dr. Smith, who always put exactly two drops of half-and-half in her tea, and thoroughly enjoyed our scones with clotted cream and jam. We were still high from our walk, and as we talked about how amazing and wonderful the day had been, the Eagles came on the radio. We sang "Take It Easy" over scones and tea, laughed at the fact that our Victorian Lit professor who regularly wore Laura Ashley knew every word to an Eagles song, and we were having this classic rock "moment" together in Oxford. It was surreal and yet somehow fitting, and the four of us savored it, knowing that our perfect day was quickly coming to an end.

I grew and learned so much about the world those two weeks in England, developing a fondness for other cultures, an appreciation for history, and a passion for knowledge (not to mention a voracious appetite for books). I discovered how to navigate a huge, foreign city without getting lost, and how not to be the "stupid American." Invaluable life lessons came packaged neatly in a two-week course. My eyes were opened a little more to the world and my life changed dramatically after that.

(Incidentally, it was also on that trip that a painting hanging quietly in the National Gallery rocked my world and became inspiration for a huge part of my life as a musician. That story will be told another time.)

This year I don't have big fine travel plans (except for camp in Colorado with 30 teenagers, but that's more like work than play), and it makes me feel trapped and claustrophobic. I haven't decided yet if this need to always explore is a character flaw or a gift; perhaps a little of both. But I am learning that the landlocked, provincial life in which I currently find myself is okay, it is just a season, and it's not forever. I am learning to be content with where God has me (which is no small task for the Teacher or the student), and in the midst of this, learning to appreciate the little things: that my 40-hour-a-week job involves being surrounded by books (not to mention comic relief due to the occasional freakishness of the public); that despite the craziness of my schedule, the gigs are coming in again and we are once again playing music; that I have rediscovered writing, though I've had to fight for time to do it, but I've never been more inspired.

So when that incredible ache comes over me on a day like today, and I feel that I simply must hop on a plane or I shall surely die, I allow myself to pine a little, and then I whisper in my spirit, "...but not my will, but Yours...." I am learning the art of surrender. I am thankful for the lesson. And I hope "the urge for going" stays prominent in my heart as a reminder to me of where I've been, of where I am, and of what's in store.


Just words

Valentines Day has always been the stalest of holidays for me. I've never really liked it much. Maybe it's all the pink. I've never been a pink person; I've rather always been more of a brown person or an olive drab person or, perhaps, a burnt umber person, but pink makes me feel funny. Uncomfortable. Itchy. Nauseous. I associate it with candy conversation hearts, which I never liked, except for the yellow ones, but ate anyway and went home from school feeling queasy and lonely. I never had boyfriends, and thus never got "good" valentines like all the popular girls like Nikki Burke and Michelle Palmer did: teddy bears and roses and chocolates and all sorts of other lavish items from their football boyfriends. The conversation hearts were never really special, always very standard -- everyone gave and got conversation hearts stuffed inside the little tiny envelopes that held the generic valentines. We only ate them because they were candy and Valentine's Day was the only day past Christmas you could have candy in school. But you knew they were given in an almost obligatory way, given to you by random people who really weren't even your friends, and that added to the pointlessness of it all.

And so the candy hearts were eaten in the same obligatory manner in which they were given, and I would go home with my queasy stomach and dump out all my generic valentines on my bed and read them all.

"To: Sarah
From: Diana"

"To: Sarah
From: Amy"

"To: Shara
From: Chad"

"To: Sahara
From: Jason W."
(the boys always spelled my name wrong)

I had about fifty-seven valentines stuffed in my little bag, none of them expressing any sentiment at all, and I only actually knew about four of the people that gave them to me. And only two of those people were in my clique, but I knew they didn't really like me much. After aimlessly shuffling through the little cards, I would stuff them in a drawer in my desk in my room and forget about them -- I would feel guilty if I threw them away.

When I got to college, I decided that I wouldn't be a victim of Valentine's Day, that I would overcome the staleness with rebellion. I went to a small Southern Baptist school where there was a fair share of girls who wore bows in their hair and had boyfriends that they were going to marry and have a thousand kids with, and the bowheads spent Valentine's Day carrying gigantic balloon bouquets with teddy bears in them from class to class and squealing to their friends about how he must be "The One," and I just couldn't take it. Therefore, "Black Day" was instituted: my friends and I made it tradition to wear all black on Valentine's Day.

My second year in Nashville, Valentine's Day struck back. I had driven out to my friends' Lang and Renee's house for the evening, and on the way back home, it started to snow. It was about 11:30 pm, and as I was coming off the freeway in the worst part of Nashville (read: racial tension and reverse discrimination towards white people like me), my Chevy Celebrity decided to break down. It was freezing. I was dressed up in my black with a thin black overcoat on, and had to walk to the nearest gas station from the freeway. Within seconds of the commencement of my journey, a loud, dented, creepy pickup truck stopped alongside me, and the passenger window rolled down to reveal two men of African-American descent, reeking of booze and Pall Malls, gold teeth glinting in the half-light. The driver, who looked like Flava Flav on crack, said, "Awwww, you need a ride? Hop in, we'll carry you to the gas station!" I muttered, "Umm, nothanksthatsokayI'llbefine" and kept walking. But Flav insisted: "C'mon, it's cool! We're cool! You can't walk all by yourself!" and so I reluctantly agreed to hop into the bed of the truck, reasoning that it was only 3 blocks and I could always jump if things got scary. They "carried" me to the gas station safe and sound and drove off. The attendant at the gas station, a 45-year-old video gamer who probably still lived with his mom, refused to let me in to use the phone (it was after midnight now and the doors were locked, leaving me to communicate my plight through the little mechanical drawer under the window), citing safety concerns (my black poet's shirt must have appeared threatening). I was then forced to walk another four blocks in the snow to another gas station, this time wishing Flav and his gold-toothed friend would come back and fetch me. I finally reached the gas station and called two guy friends back at school for help, and they came and pushed my car all the way back to Belmont in the snow.

In spite of my determination to stay away from the male species that night, I thanked God for Flav, Gold-tooth, and my two friends who ended up becoming my Valentine's dates that night.

At least they didn't give me any conversation hearts.

Even now, as a married woman, having found the love of my life and soulmate, Valentines falls flat. David feels the same way I do, and he's a romantic (far beyond me, in fact). It's the empty sense of mindless obligation that comes with the day that we both despise: because it's Valentine's day, we all have to make reservations, have a "romantic" dinner at an overcrowded restaurant, buy flowers, give a goofy card, etc. It's all so unoriginal. It's a Hallmark holiday. It's stale. So we usually end up playing somewhere (because the cello is so romantic, apparently, and in high demand on such a day), enjoying a nice meal after we've worked, and choose another night that isn't so programmed to go out and enjoy each other. This year is no exception. We are playing at our favorite restaurant in Fredericksburg, so we'll be working. We even decided we wouldn't do any gift-giving because we're trying to save for furniture for our new house. We are merely observers today, which is always fun and interesting.

Maybe I'll wear black for old-times' sake.

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