by Shirley Russell
I suppose it should come as no surprise that I’ve fallen completely in love with you. After all, this is a return and not an introduction. I’ve seen you before; I’ve seen your spires and your streets and your narrow little lanes and cosy coffee shops. I’ve been in your libraries and your colleges and your halls.
But what has surprised me is how different you are this time; and how beautiful. It’s as if the wounds and hardships and sorrows that I’ve experienced in the outside world have made you all the more spectacular. Now I compare you to the darkness outside, and you shine. How you shine! Your spires soar upwards and point to the vault of the heavens, and on a sunny day I look at you and think my heart will explode.
I work in your libraries and look at the beauty around me and somehow can’t believe I’m here. I used to have trouble concentrating on my work because I thought my heart would break; now I can’t concentrate because my heart is soaring. You both distract me and inspire me. I want to be worthy of you and do the best work I can, but I’m caught in the wonder of seeing you every day.
There is peace and rest and wisdom everywhere. I go to Compline and serenity rests on my shoulders like a cloak; I listen to chamber music and it heals my soul; I read and write and discover intellectual possibilities I never knew existed. I used to stare at the pavement as I walked, wishing I could be anywhere else. Now I look at the blue sky and think of endless promise and the wonder of being alive and being here.
Even on a rainy day, your magnificence shines through in the small things; the fireplaces and snug studies and steaming mugs of tea. I peer at books that have that wonderful old smell and speak to me in different ways than to the scholars that have read them before, and will speak to later scholars in different ways still. I run to hall, not because it’s raining but because I’m looking forward to seeing my friends who love you as much as I do. The skies are grey but I laugh, loudly and often. I laugh as often as I used to cry.
I had genuinely forgotten what happiness was until I came back to you. Have I regressed somehow, or gone back in time? No. I am not the fresh-faced undergraduate I was when we first met. I am older, scarred, worn by sadness and the passage of time. But you are helping me find out what I want and how to move forward. You surround me and lift me up and make me more of who I really am.
I am not Auden; I can’t write some wonderful ode that will be read long after I am gone. All I can say is what has struck me every day since I returned. I love you with a heart that is whole again because of you.