On Saturday, we visited a wonderful ruined abbey called Fountains Abbey and took a long walk round the grounds. (Click the first picture twice to view full size)
Once we were done, hunger struck and we headed for the nearest town to look for food. Almost as soon as we got out of the car in the little town centre, we smelled fish and chips and both made like homing pigeons in the direction of the smell.
I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more enjoyable meal than that one, even though we ate sitting in the car, using our fingers as cutlery and spare tissues for napkins. But there are so many simple pleasures that I appreciate now.
When I was planning to leave England, I wrote to Maureen Lawrence, an amazing and life-changing professor at my college. I was only a few years out of college and still needed her approval I suppose. She was full of enthusiasm for my plans and shared them with her husband – another professor at the same college. “Brian says to tell you,” she wrote in her next letter, “that if you’re bored here, you’ll ultimately be bored there.” But, she went on to say, she thought her husband was wrong. She thought varied experiences were inherently valuable, however they turned out. From which I surmised that she also thought I’d grow bored with America, but that she didn’t think that was the point.
And while they were both right about the boredom – I did eventually grow bored with my new life – only Maureen was right about the decision to emigrate. Because the fact is, had I not left England for “a better life” I would never have realized that there isn’t one. I would have spent my whole life wondering… should I have just gone for it? How fantastic must it be in New York? How glamorous must the lives of Americans be? Whatever possessed me to stay here living my humdrum existence as if there were no alternative?
But I did leave and I had fun and I saw a lot and I learned a lot and the most valuable lesson of all was that I belong here in England. And as a result of that lesson, I can be here now enjoying every second and appreciating everything in an entirely new way. Things I previously took for granted now seem like little miracles.
I know people, both here and in America, who never have to leave their birthplace in order to appreciate it fully, but I wasn’t one of them. I took things for granted before like how green the grass is, how joyful the dawn chorus is, how comforting it is to hear church bells mark every hour as they have for centuries, how history seeps from every pore of every place you go, how the many cloudy days make the sunny ones feel like a wonderful gift, how it feels to wander through the ruins of an old castle or abbey and imagine the lives lived there before, the way no one ever offers to pray for you but instead keep their fingers crossed, the way people laugh constantly and tease each other as a matter of normal conversation, the fact that you can listen to radio all day and never hear an ad, how nice it is to be able to see friends and family whenever you want, the free healthcare, the FA Cup Final, being called ‘love’ in a shop, custard tarts, British chocolate … oh and new discoveries like Marmite flavored cashews (Heaven.In.A.Bag).
I bet Americans living in England could write a similar list about their home and would have a newfound appreciation for all kinds of things they didn’t think about when they lived there. It’s the act of living in an alien environment for so long that helps you appreciate what matters.
So while Brian was partly right all those years ago, he was ultimately wrong to be so discouraging. Had I not left, I would never have found such pure happiness in something as uneventful as sitting in a car park eating fish and chips and drinking tea out of a paper cup.