Sunsets in Scotland: the gift of inconvenience
Slightly past 2 PM. The G&D’s cafe on Cowley Rd. A crisp Americano stationed by my laptop. The cursor flickers over the warmly blue “Confirm” button, goading me to check in for my British Airways flight. For midterm break I was going to go to Edinburgh. However, I have also just realized that the roundtrip flight didn’t quite look right. Why was my flight tomorrow departing from Edinburgh and arriving at Heathrow (LDN)? Why was my return flight departing from London and flying toward Edinburgh?
The customer service rep explained that I had purchased the roundtrip flight in the wrong direction. I explained that I had double checked before purchasing. This did not matter. The record indicated otherwise. I asked him to switch out the flight for another with the correct logistics. The clicking of keys as he navigated the company database.
“Sir, I’ve found a replacement ticket the same day at £218. I’ll go ahead and book those for you.”
“Well, if it’s only costing me £70 extra, then that should be alright.”
“No sir, you will pay an additional £218. The original ticket is non-refundable. Let me get that ticket for you.”
The obstinate politeness of customer service reps can be bafflingly frustrating sometimes. It took several minutes for me to convince him not to empty my checking account. There had to be another way.
The following morning I was seated on a bus, one of many that would take me from Oxford to Edinburgh. For those who may not be aware, these two locations exist at relative northern and southern extremes of the United Kingdom. Cost: £65. Departure: 8:05 AM. Final arrival: 7:25 PM. The return trip would, of course, be the same length.
Half my memories of midterm feature me hunched over in a bus watching Kirsten Dunst’s sanity unraveling in Season 2 of Fargo. That interspersed with eating numerous packed sandwiches while reading through all of Gravity’s Rainbow. Out the window, pockets of sheep on the hilly slopes like clusters of cotton. I counted out the journey in episodes and page numbers. You never know how long a 12 hour bus ride feels until you wind up on one.
The other, brighter half of my memories are of Edinburgh itself. I met up with the Vines guys who had just flown in from Dublin. We stayed at a remarkably upscale AirBNB with a heated tile floor in the bathroom. We took communion at St. Giles Cathedral–the mother church of Presbyterianism. We wandered through galleries, sloping streets, and the other contours of this fantastically medieval cityscape. We climbed Arthur’s Seat to watch the evening sun melt into the Edinburgh skyline. Such a thing of beauty. We bonded on that trip. Despite the lost plane ticket and lengthy bus ride, it was worth the journey.
Sometimes I wonder how much more I could have seen or done if that flight had worked out, and I hadn’t needed to spend 24 hours on a bus over break. I think it’s natural to wish for those hypothetical conveniences. At the same time, I cannot help but think those unanticipated obstacles made the final destination all the more enjoyable.
In a world addicted to instantaneous gratification and total convenience, it is easy to forget that satisfaction is only born out of effort, out of some cost to the person who seeks it. The best sunsets are found on mountaintops not just because you get a neat vantage point, but because you need to climb a literal mountain to be able to witness their grandeur. Arthur’s Seat was all the more rewarding because we had to work and wheeze and sweat our way to the top. Photography cannot even begin to simulate the beauty of that sunset for you, the reader, until you can take that journey yourself.
The endless boredom of the bus ride, the labor of climbing that precipe, these were the things that made my midterm break all the more memorable, all the more worthwhile. The same can be said of my time studying at Oxford. In a single study session at the Bodleian library, I could watch the sun rise and fall into nighttime. I would spend half an hour every Friday night walking to my tutor’s office to have him deconstruct and destroy my week’s work for 60 minutes. The following half hour, I walked home in the dark, circuitously analyzing how I could improve and avoid the embarrassment of critique yet again.
This was not an individual challenge. It was a collective one. Every day and night you can find hordes of anxious Christian college students huddled in the Vines living room, scraping together essays to appease their tutors while bonding over memes and digestive cookies. SCIO is not an easy study abroad. But at the same time its inherent challenges did so much to strength us both individually and as a community. The Christian life can be described as one of repeatedly deferred gratification; the same can be said of student life at Oxford. Despite how much each of us may have complained about this or that deadline, we never regretted taking up this study abroad. Many (if not all) of us wish we could go back.
Happiness is born out of the energy and time we sacrifice to our endeavors. Patience breeds gratitude, and the tenacity we students learned and practised throughout that semester made us better, happier people. Not all of us can climb a mountain as iconic as Arthur’s Peak, but we all have those metaphoric uphill struggles we face. The kind of challenge which will only reward you if you throw everything you have into it. But it will reward you, and not always in the way you would expect.
– Nathaniel Perrin –
Michaelmas Term, 2017