Oh, if life were only moments,
Even now and then a bad one.
But if life were only moments,
How’d you ever know you had one?
-The baker’s wife, from Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim
A year at Oxford has been a moment in the woods. It has been a year in a temporary bubble, away from people, places, and the pressures of life. To say Oxford is a fairytale is not far from the truth. JK Rowling did not invent Hogwarts. She described a year of a student at Christ Church College. Tolkien did not imagine Middle Earth. He wrote about the shires of the surrounding countryside. Lewis Caroll did not dream up Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. He embellished what he saw.
Sylvesters, a black-tie celebration in June, was the beginning of a long goodbye. It was here, during the class superlatives awards, where one realizes that nine months is all it takes to be able to share a communal laugh. That nine months is all it takes for one to induct new members into their inner circle of friends. And that nine months is not nearly enough time to hear 239 stories of how one arrived at Oxford.
Like Alice and Harry soon discovered, being in wonderland has its perils. Alice nearly got her head chopped off and Harry’s life was always in danger. We too had our trials and tribulations, our frustrations and criticisms, and our doubts and worries. But the biggest challenge of wonderland is leaving it behind. On the outside, life is not spent running after the Mad-Hatter and eating imaginary cakes, but it is a place where one has to face issues – jobs, obligations, familial and societal responsibilities. The lessons learned in the safety of wonderland are to be applied to the problems that are prevalent in our wider communities.
The goodbyes at the graduation ceremony in September, like at any graduation, were difficult. All throughout the day, people said goodbye with a sense of finality – as if our time together was ending. But is that really true? Yes, our time has ended as classmates, but our time has just begun as peers. True, as we spread across the globe, some of us will never cross paths again; but we are all separated by a single phone call. As I flew over the Atlantic, all I could think of was “what a small pond!”
I was amused at how similar the first few days were with the last few days. The prevailing question at the beginning, “what did you do?” was asked so many times that the answer became trite. Likewise, the question at the end, “what are you going to do?” achieved the same level of annoyance. As we move forward, we will ask each other with great curiosity and genuine interest, “What have you been doing?” Given the different paths we are taking, I am sure the answer will never be the same and it will always be fascinating.
Be seeing you…
S. J. Russell