C.S. Lewis' shadow delightfully haunts me. I need not look for it. It is with me. It is my guide, if you will; and I endure its going hence. Painted on the brick and cobblestone, his shadow is his gift; his ghost, however found or found out by, is my prize. In a peculiar way, one might suggest his shadow was his last work of art: the lasting impression from his discoveries; his words still at work like a trap awaiting its prey. One, such as myself, might even go so far to suggest Oxford herself had been transformed for such a time as this; for such a rebellious and searching heart as mine. As if the magic of this land could only be found when Lewis says so. Yes, that is what I am suggesting. Oxford, Mr. Lewis' very own Narnia, drawing me in through paintings, cupboards and foul play; drawing out of me unknown lands I have yet to discover. My own Narnia, calling me by name.
Once I arrived in Oxford, stepping off the train and genuinely feeling emotional, I annoyingly went to the wrong house. And annoyingly they were Americans. Not even 12hrs since leaving the shore of The United States and I was still within arms reach of the very place I was taking a holiday from. But they were the kind sort. The kind that told me by how they held themselves, "there are others beside ourselves here." We chatted for a few minutes and upon leaving we wished each other a happy Thanksgiving. As I walked onward looking for the correct address I was staying at, I couldn't help but smile, for Lewis himself had a similar arrival into Oxford almost 100 years ago: "I had come out of the station on the wrong side...I did not see to what extent this little adventure was an allegory of my whole life."
That night, after eating dinner at The Eagle and Child, I walked across the street to another pub Tolkien and Lewis would spend their time (and money) at. At The Lamb and Flag I tried to imagine Lewis and Tolkien sitting across from one another, smoking their pipes, talking nonsense. Surely they spoke about interesting topics. But they were men. They had bad days. They told dirty jokes and lost their tempers from time to time. I tried to imagine that version of Lewis and Tolkien. The version that I would fit into: ordinary talk with a lot of heart and the desire to laugh. I'm sure their day-jobs got the best of them. And I'm sure they came to such places to escape, to unwind, to find laughter and embrace vulnerability only true friends can bring out. And then I imagined them drinking a bit too much and poking fun at one another. For here they were not who they are today. They were not yet famous, as dreadful of a word that is. They were men. They were flawed. They were just like you and me.
The next morning, after my long-winded battle with jet lag (which I loss), I ate breakfast with Kathryn, the 70-odd year old grandmother whom I was staying with. We didn't know one another. The internet brought us together. And that made my time with her all the more interesting. While eating porridge, Kathryn and I conversed about the primary topics two strangers feel comfortable opening. As the topic of parenting held the door wide open, Kathryn put a lump of brown sugar in her porridge and told me something I hope to remember, which is perhaps why I am writing it down: a parent's job is to raise a child to contribute to society, not to raise a child to adapt to the parent's behavior and bias, like raising a desirable roommate. In other words, parenting should never be approached selfishly. Parents should form the clay that is their children into the future they wish to see. Kathryn was quite passionate about this, as if I wasn't the first person she had mentioned this to. And seeing I am not a parent, I listened. Following this conversation, I put a lump of brown sugar in my porridge and asked her how many grandchildren she has. She answered "six". And that was the end of that.
The rest of my time in Oxford was spent wandering. I obeyed the heart. I listened. I made up stories in my head and pretended to be the characters in them. Thankfully one of my character's wandered into a bookstore that turned out to be the oldest in Oxford. It's called Blackwell. After a considerable amount of time at Blackwell I made my way to the exit but didn't make it all the way. My eye caught a small sign that read "Rare Books". Remembering the guideline to this journey, I decided to take a quick look. Peering through the glass case that held shelves upon shelves of days I wish I had to look over their books, I couldn't believe my eyes: a first edition collection of The Chronicles of Narnia. There were more CS Lewis first editions, but these were the prize my limited time had won. I suppose I stared at their covers far too long because a lady who looked rather official stopped while walking pass and asked me if I wanted to take a deeper look. I stayed another hour and poured through first editions of not only Lewis, but Steinbeck, Tolkien, Stevenson, Fitzgerald, Orwell and Bradbury. It may have been the highlight of my journey. But I'll leave that decision to hindsight. Regardless, life can be rather spectacular we when wander through it. As Tolkien said, "not all those who wander are lost".
On a different note, and perhaps the one I should have started this essay with, I learned on this journey one will never know what he or she is fully capable of achieving until he or she attempts to achieve it. In other words, one must try to do something to know how great one will be at it. Unless of course the said achievement is out of the question. Such as, myself winning the gold medal as the fastest man alive. I wouldn't even bother attempting that.
Another thing I learned: my life will live beyond the years I live. That is, life is merely the seed to the tree that will one day grow (when I die), and if tended to well, bear fruit.
I also learned English meat pies are a far cry from Australian meat pies.