I have felt the pull of England ever since I can remember. Childhood reading always leaned to plots that took place in the UK. The same with any kind of movie or television show. However, if I really analyzed the attraction, it would be simple and straightforward, nothing to do with mysticism or reincarnation. For one thing, many of the people I grew up around, neighbors, family and family friends, were from the British Isles. My father worked for what was then B.O.A.C. , now British Airways, and many of his colleagues were transplants. Three of my childhood best friends were from England and Scotland. I was surrounded by ex-pats and, for the most part, these were very, very nice people. So in my little head being British was synonymous with being kind, interesting and funny.
Additionally, there is the whole history thing. I am captivated by the idea of connections to the past. There are still huge chunks of Roman walls dotting London! The antiquity is hugely romantic and attractive to me. I also love churches. All of them, little country stone ones and soaring, self-conscious cathedrals. England has so many marvelous specimens. All these factors add up to an irresistible allure.
As a freshman in high school, we were assigned to write our autobiography, along with what we wanted to do in the future. Naturally, I wrote I wanted to move to and work in England. My father made me change it because he said it sounded pretentious. Only in my family would you be made to change your own life story. Sigh.
To be fair, many people are raised to be wary and restrained. But the not-so-subtle message I received was don’t follow your dreams, hold onto doubt, don’t be good to yourself, be cautious, be fearful.
At any rate, there was an article in the New York Times this week, by the writer Jane Smiley. She had recently been traveling in the Northeast section of England, an area of wild and occasionally bleak landscape, overflowing with historic, literary and religious connections. All right up my alley. She is a wonderful writer and her description of the area was so evocative you literally could feel as though you were there. But I wasn’t there, no matter how badly I wanted to be, and I never would be there. I was sobbing by the second sentence.
Most days I can hang in there and just deal. But sometimes I am simply overwhelmed by the losses I have experienced. Reading this blissful description of a bucolic trip that would be a dream come true for me, but one I can never again take, pushed me over the edge.
Never one to mince words, I jumped onto the comment column. Most of the commenters were leaving notes of fond memories of either similar trips or nostalgia from growing up there. My comment was this: GO! DO IT!! Don’t wait for a perfect time or a perfect anything. If these illnesses have taught me anything it is that clichés are true. You can’t take it with you. Life is too short. You do only live once.
I had four kids to raise and I do not regret any sacrifice I had to make for them, although nothing ever seemed like a sacrifice. I would have done anything for them. A few years ago I had briefly considered taking a short trip to London by myself, but ultimately realized that being there with them is what would be a truly wonderful experience. And it was. I treasure those memories. But I wish I had been more organized in planning my dreams. I wish I had gone again and again, no matter what I had to give up to get there. I thought I had all the time in the world. And I was so wrong.
My mantra to my children has always been “Reach for the moon”. But I am extending it and amending it. If I can impart any advice it would be this: Reach for the moon, and do it now. Don’t wait. Follow your passion. Do what you love. Do it, just do it.
I must have struck a chord, because my comment is the number one recommended remark following the article, endorsed by 88 people as of today. I hope those 88 have a blast pursuing what they love. Just as I hope that for all of you as well.
|The Cooper children outside the Salieri Restaurant, The Strand, London May, 1999|
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