(image via here)
Earlier this week, my friend Rosie and I met for a late dinner at an Italian restaurant halfway between our two homes. Neither of us had eaten there before, even though we both live a short walk from it, and what was supposed to be a Girls’ Night dinner at Rosie’s house had shrunk down during the course of the day until it was just the two of us, so naturally we decided to have a night out.
We sat outside on the front terrace because it was still light enough to feel the warmth of the sun. We split a pizza – which was almost New York-style in its artful floppiness – and a salad with avocados – which I must point out because avocados! – and we decided to splurge on cocktails. And when the light finally faded out of the sky (which doesn’t happen until nearly 10pm these days), we moved into the warm restaurant and dawdled over coffee.
(I have to put in a quick plug for the restaurant because the food was divine, the servers were gracious and attentive without being too prominent, and they even hung little lanterns from the awning for us once twilight fell. If you live in the Egham area and have a craving for Italian food, go to Caspari!)
When we were finally ready to leave, I walked the roughly half of a mile with Rosie to her flat so that she could then drive me back past the restaurant and about half of a mile in the opposite direction to my flat. You see, to get to Rosie’s flat, we had to walk past the green. (For my American readers, a green is essentially a park. Or sometimes more like a town square.) This particular green is lovely: flat, wide and open enough to play cricket or host an autumn fayre with fireworks.
In the daylight, neither of us would think twice about walking alone down the road past the green, and we would have gone our separate ways at the restaurant. But after dark, the empty green becomes thick with shadows, surrounded on three sides by wooded patches just dense enough to hide the many houses in the area. There are no streetlights on the green, and for a girl alone at night, the long walk from one end to the other can easily feel darker and darker with each step. So – by mutual agreement – I walked home with Rosie and then let her drive me to mine.
At the far end of the green, a little roundabout – so small that an American driver might think it was just an oddly shaped speed bump and drive right over it without knowing what it really was – creates a hub for several roads under a solitary streetlight. Most of them tunnel deeper into the trees, but one – the one we had just walked up – runs back along the green towards the friendly lights of the houses at the other end. From that roundabout, you can see the entire green, as well as a good distance along each of the wooded roads.
And on that night, as we reached the little roundabout, we realized that we were completely alone. There were no cars on any of the roads. There were no sounds of cars coming up through the trees or muted hum of traffic on the not-too-distant motorway. There were not even any planes soaring far overhead on their way to or from Heathrow.
It was just us. And the trees. And the green. And the quietness of a world momentarily at rest.
We laughed and ran to stand on top of the hump in the road, turning circles to look down each branch and talking about the scene in The Notebook when Noah and Allie lie down in the middle of a deserted street in the middle of the night.
(image from film via unknown)
Technically, we stood on safe ground, as the cars were meant to go around the hump and not over it, but the daredevil feeling of stopping in the middle of a normally busy road was still there. (And not everyone goes around these mini roundabouts.)
And from the top of that little bump in the road, looking out across the shadowy green from under the glow of the only streetlight on that side of the world and listening to the peace of the night around us, I felt my perspective shift a little.
Sometimes you have to stand on top of a desk if you want to see the world in a different way. Sometimes you have to cry, “O captain my captain”, and walk out of step. And other times all you need is dinner with a friend and a quiet moment “at the still point of the turning world” (to quote my old friend T.S. Eliot). Because in that quiet moment, standing in the middle of a road in which I should not have been able to stand, listening to nothing at all but the sigh of the breeze in the trees above me, with my friend beside me, I realized all over again that God knew exactly what he was doing when he sent me to this place.
Because once upon a time, this city girl was a country girl. And a soul raised in the wild winds and fields of the prairie sometimes needs a little more than the noise and bustle of the city. Such a soul sometimes needs green spaces. And quiet moments. And roads lined with so many trees that they could be called wooded. And stars – so many stars.
I will always love the city, but that moment in which the world seemed to stop while we laughed on top of the roundabout reminded me that it is okay to love the small towns and countryside, too.
And I may be halfway around the world from my family and friends of years, but I also have friends here in this new place who are sharing their lives with me and making me one of them. Friends who laugh with me and challenge me and sometimes even see more in me than I see in myself.
This life I’ve chosen is sometimes quieter than what I’ve been accustomed to. (Being a full time student and living in a rather sleepy town on the outskirts of London will do that.) But this life is also so, so good. As T.S. Eliot said, “at the still point, there the dance is.” And on top of that roundabout, I found a quiet moment to take in the dance I’m currently living. And it. is. good.