as i write this, i am back stateside, trying to ward off the crushing jet lag that feels like weights heavier than jet engines attached to my eyelids. we are home, safe and sound, and happy to see our children and get back to the routine, but sad that our overseas adventure is so soon over. i could have easily spent another week there. or fifty.
i wanted to update you about our final day there: a day of tombs, as it turned out. i discovered, partly by accident, that the hotel where we stayed for most of our time in england was only about 20 minutes from a little town called tanworth-in-arden, a small british village without any particular claim to fame other than perhaps one small blip on the radar screen: nick drake.
now i have written about nick drake before here and here, so you really have no excuse to not know who he is. but in case you do not, he is, to put it as plainly as i really can, the master and magician of melancholy. nick died tragically at the young age of 26, but if you listen to his minimalist music, with that sad, melancholy ache in it, you would swear he was a man at least twice that age, yearning for some lost love, or distant shore. in fact, that's always been what nick drake's music has been for me, a kind of art that reveals my deep, usually ignored sense of longing for something deeper, something more, something holier. he only recorded a small catalog of songs, but most of them are like signposts to this deeper part of life, this holy yearning for all that is real and true and beautiful with a capital "b." so, when i realized that i was only about 20 minutes from tanworth-in-arden, where nick's parish church, st. mary magdalene, is situated, along with the simple gravestone marking his burial spot, i had to go. so i diverged from the group, paid a taxi to take me off the beaten path, down some one lane country roads through the midlands of england, to the place that was always nick's home. the driver took me to the church, and waited for me as i scurried off with the same anticipation as moses when he thought he saw that bush aflame. it took me a few minutes to get my bearings in the cemetery, in the british drizzle-grey sky, which is less a description of the weather than a character who was part of the story. there was fog and granite and bare branches arching up in aching beauty to the sun they believe has risen just beyond the clouds. after a few minutes, i found it, and approached it cautiously, wishing i could somehow go back in time before this granite was made into tombstone, to tell nick what he means, what he is. without being able to do that, i simply tried to soak in the moment, the cold reality of death, and the brokenness of life, traced out in the cracks in his own stone, nearly 40 years old. then i walked around the holy symbol, feeling as though i ought to take off my shoes for such holy ground, and saw the inscription on the back: now we rise, and we are everywhere. it is so nick drake to be just so vague and so hauntingly hopeful in the midst of the coldest, darkest, loneliest, grayest, foggiest places. i finally tore myself away, after saying a few private words to no one in particular, or nick, or God, and any of the various angels who might have strayed from the heavenly host to spare a listen, and headed back to the waiting taxi, thanking God for life and for autumn, for hope in the midst of the cracks, and for the rising after all the falling. and for showing up, always, in the midst of the desert or the cemetery or wherever we are. holy ground, indeed.
from there, the taxi took me to a small town just outside stratford, where i rendezvoused with my group at the home of anne hathaway, shakespeare's bride. we got to see her house, before heading into town and seeing the birthplace and home of the bard himself, william shakespeare. we enjoyed some free time in stratford, and then headed out for oxford, to see christ church, where the wesleys went to college (as well as lewis carroll, among many others). oxford was amazing, and i wish we could have spent a week there! we drove by the eagle and the child, the pub where c.s. lewis and j.r.r. tolkein, among others, used to meet for discussion, calling themselves "the inklings." christ church itself, as one of the colleges that makes up the university, was stunning. the great hall served as the inspiration for the dining room in hogwarts in the harry potter films, and being in there really felt like you were at hogwarts! they even used the stairs leading up to the great hall as one of the actual sets in the film. from oxford we headed south east back to london, to spend the night near heathrow before heading back to the u.s. in the morning. on the way to oxford we had stopped for a brief moment at the burial site of winston churchill, that great english bulldog of a man, being the strength of a country at just the right time, now buried with such simplicity near another anglican church.
while we had some free time earlier in stratford-upon-avon, shannon and i took a brisk walk to the edge of town to go into holy trinity church, where shakespeare is buried, bowing in as we entered through the tiny little door into the church. we approached the chancel in a quiet reverence, amazed at the age and history. so many stories, so many words, so many years, and so much grace of a God who embraces it all in redemption. the whole thing is stunning.
william shakespeare's tomb (and anne hathaway's)
and the whole day was laden with a sort of heaviness, like the weight of so many stones, half-buried in the earth both to mark the spots of burial, and to shout out in long-standing voices, that there is no way the earth will finally hold us. there is no casket, no wood or marble, no sin or shame that can ultimately keep us from the love of God, who fixes all the broken spots, and gives us the one thing our hearts are so desperately longing for: love. and now we rise. and we are everywhere. we are home.