When my feet hit the ground, I knew, for the first time, I was home. But that’s a bit abrupt; let me give you some background.
Fall of my sophomore year at Vassar had been exceedingly difficult, and I wanted nothing more than a break. I was a scholarship student, working two jobs, one on campus, one off, and living in the co-op dorm, which meant a whole lot of extra work. Near the end of the semester I was physically and mentally exhausted. I became nauseated every time I opened a book to read or study. I was sure I would fail my exams and felt the only answer was to take incompletes and a leave of absence from school the following year.
I spoke to all my professors, who urged me to take my exams without studying and assured me I would pass, which I did. My dear friend and mentor, Eddy, talked me out of the leave of absence, suggesting that although I had the best intentions of returning to school, the statistics, in fact, were against me. Luckily for me, I listened closely to Eddy during those weeks and followed his wise advice. “Don’t leave school,” he counseled. “Change your surroundings, have some fun, go abroad!”
I knew I couldn’t afford to do that, but much to my amazement, the school agreed to continue my scholarships, and everything was set. Where was I going? London! Why? One reason was I could speak the language, a real no brainer. Another? There would be lots of activities and diversions, should I find myself homesick and miserable, which was something that never, in fact, happened.
Fall semester ended, and spring semester followed, as did the summer, and I prepared for my trip. I was supposed to study abroad for only one semester, but about a month before I was due to return, I asked Vassar (and my parents) for an extension, which was approved. I ended up staying in Britain for almost a full year! But I digress. I wanted to tell you about the summer. That summer I realized that I would be a stranger to all my new schoolmates. No one would know me as overweight if I wasn’t. So that summer I dieted, with the help of my doctor, and two days a week I ate nothing but apples and milk. I can’t remember the quantities (I wish I could). And I grew smaller, so that by the time I left for London I was just the right size for the first time in my life! What a change. I arrived in Britain a new person.
And now we are finally back to when I stepped on the soil in England for the first time. I knew immediately that I was home. I knew I was in a place where western civilization went back more than 250 or 300 years. Finally, I felt rooted. It was an odd feeling at first, but it quickly became very comfortable and the feeling repeated itself the more I traveled. Especially in Greece and Italy I felt the pull to the ancients and the connection to them.
I couldn’t see enough ruins. I climbed to the top of the Acropolis in a rain storm late at night and saw the Parthenon lit by bolts of lightning. I was sure Plato would walk out to greet me at any moment! I returned to London for my second semester a changed woman yet again. But then, I had changed so many times that year and the previous one, it was hard to keep up with myself. Losing so much weight, going abroad, traveling to so many new places and adapting to so many new things, my head was spinning!
As I have grown older I realize that change is something I do not always embrace any more. In fact, at times I get so comfortable with the familiar, that when things do change I dig in my heels and have to be dragged along, kicking and screaming all the way. Not so back then. I welcomed change. It always meant growth. Where has that adaptable young woman gone? She’s still here: like the crooked streets of old London, she wanders between the old and new, between tradition and challenge, constantly seeking her ever-changing destiny.
Emily was raised by extremely liberal parents in the lush and gorgeous Hudson Valley of New York where she was always in sight of inspiring mountains. Her formal education took her travelling all over the world at a youngish age and instilled in her a great love of different cultures and diversities, both tangible and philosophical. She has enjoyed more than one profession, including that of being a chef, and has cooked for presidents and governors alike. She has lived in Alabama since 1989, though she longs for a cooler climate. Presently she resides in Sheffield, with her beloved husband, Tim, and two very old cats, and near her now-grown, delightful son, Dylan.