I have come home. Finally, after all those years, I have come to a place where I – unfitting as I am – do fit in perfectly well, as if a spot for me had been reserved to snuggle into and be part of the unity a certain place and a certain time can build up in rare instants of harmony.
Oxford, last months of the year 2000. I came here to do research on my PhD-thesis. A simple plan, but what I did do instead and what this city offered me on top of it can not so easily be wrapped into a single sentence.
I found myself redefining values in a conversation about the smell of courage being like that of a frozen road on a winter morning with a professor who had already taught my own advisor when he was a student here and his was spiked and dyed green. We were sitting on the floor of his office at three o’clock in the morning, drinking excellent red wine and listening to the Pogues, while his black cat once in a while softly turned the pages of a book with gentle paws.
I ended up another early morning in somebody’s kitchen with people I had never met before, reading poetry to each other with a sparkle of joy in our eyes which I had only seen in young lover’s faces.
I have walked down the High on an early weekday morning on my way to alecture, the sun evoking the illusion of the ancient college walls being made of pure gold, and my eyes filled with tears for the sight of beauty and the promise of academic enlightenment and inspiration.
I attended High Table dinners with the brightest minds of these days, discussing a variety of topics stretching from Japanese ecconomics to Euclid to the paintings of the Prado over pheasant and guinea fowl and strawberries in November, never feeling rejected, even though my short graduate gown gives away my inferior stand in the ranks of the University.
My curiosity fell on fertile ground when it drove me to approaching the leading experts in my field, shamelessly asking them long lists of questions. And when they could not provide answers, they would hand me over to colleagues all over the country, from London all the way up to Edinburgh, just to satisfy my burning desire for knowledge, and whomever I asked, whoever crossed my academic path, greeted me with welcome and warmth.
I have added a minimum of a thousand words to my writing each day, I came up with an abstract for a habilitation thesis in a single night, I have never worked harder in my life.
I have shared the gym with the rowers of the senior squad, getting sprinkled with the rainbowcolored sweatdrops they shattered in all directions, I have danced madly at parties, I have had my kitchen overcrowded with people for homemade baked apples and mulled wine.
Tonight I was walking home through the ghost-town Oxford becomes after the term’s last friday, when all the students have left to their parent’s homes, to the comfort of christmas trees and soft carpets and old high school friends, and the ancient walls of Oxford started whispering to me. I have become part of this place. I have swept through this city like a storm, leaving curling swirls of dust.
Leaving curling swirls of dust is what so many thousands of people have done for centuries in this place. Finally, after all those years, I have come to a place where I – unfitting as I am – do fit in perfectly well…