Brits, Bath and Beyond
By KATIE REDMILES
There are so many things that can kill you in this world. In fact, human beings are more fragile than any of us ever care to accept since that would mean living a life filled with more fear than we already do. Being the pessimistic hypochondriac that I am, it is not surprising that my fear of death has been amplified since going abroad. From the moment I set my suitcase on my bed and began unpacking, the news became littered with threats against everyday life. The dangers being Ebola, the beheadings and captures by ISIS, Entrovirus paralyzing kids, threats against subway systems and plane malfunctions, just to name a few.
No one is safe, disease does not discriminate. Groups such as ISIS have proved they will not hesitate to kill anyone they see fit. Anyone could choose that one plane, during that one time, with that certain malfunction, and that would be it.
When I arrived in a foreign country and realized that it would be exactly four months before I saw my loved ones again, the unexpected realization of the fact that I could never see them again rushed in almost instantaneously.
Of course, back at home I could have seen them one day and that would be the last time I would see them, but now with this elongated length of time separating us, their lives continue on and I would not have been a part of them in the last moments.
It seems this increased vulnerability has also greatly affected those who love me as well.
Recently I took a day trip to London to see the Harry Potter studios (I cried twice during the tour), which is actually outside of London. The whole trip was quite an ordeal travel-wise because it required four different trains, a bus, a bus trip gone awry and a lot of time away from Wi-Fi, which is the only way my phone works for communication.
After a long, and, yes, slightly treacherous trip home, arriving back in Bath at 1 a.m., my roommate turned to me and said, “uhh Katie, your boyfriend messaged me.”
Come again? Then I go on Facebook, and there it is. Five different messages from people begging me to contact them so they know I am alive. I look at my phone, and there are multiple missed calls from my mom with a complementary text of “PLEASE CALL US WE ARE WORRIED.” I didn’t even know my mom knew how to make all caps via text.
It turns out not only did my parents call me, message my friends, but they also enlisted the help and panic of my boyfriend, who then made his own frantic contacts, as well as my mom emailing the administrator of my program here. Everyone but the Prime Minister himself was alerted of their absolute terror due to my lack of communication.
Despite the fact that I have gone days without contacting my family, despite the fact that I told my mom I would be in London all day and therefore not be able to communicate and the fact that I told her I was with six other people, the second my dad asked if I had called back yet, and the answer was no, she assumed the worst.
I was mad and unpleasant when I finally did call my mom back because I felt the stress of the situation, and it was unwanted. Yet, how could I honestly be mad at them when there are days the fear of their death engulfs me so much that I feel like I am a claustrophobe stuck in a too small box, unable to get out, writhing inside; when I actively tried to dissuade my mom from coming to visit me because to get on an airplane right now would increase any risk she is already presented with just being in Bristow, Virginia; when I lay in bed after reading CNN and try the act of praying which I am grossly out of practice.
We are living in fear and fear is living in us.
At first I accepted this as my reality here in England, being utterly consumed with the knowledge that I was at risk to losing everyone and my own life more so than ever before, until I did the cliché literary thing and took a walk in the park, resulting in the accidental discovery of the gardens.
I have been telling my friends and family that these gardens and the park they reside in have become my sanctuary. I found them almost the same way mistress Mary did in the “Secret Garden.” I was on a walk to find some seclusion in nature to experience the new fall weather, and there was a gate through which I could not see anything for a giant hedge rounded the corner into the walled area. Once I pushed the gate open and walked in however, I was greeted and overwhelmed by life. The gardens do not even contain many flowers, though there are those, but it is teeming with fecund ferns, trees, shrubs, bushes and algae on rocks, all embracing a bustling brook.
The whole winding paths through this natural maze were covered in proofs of the endurance of life.
Then, when I was sitting on a bench placed off to the side of the path under a twisting and ancient tree, I gave the illusion of reading, but instead I watched each person who walked by and observed a truth I never considered.
I saw old couples holding hands, young couples making out, best friends acting immature because they could, people solitarily walking their dogs. I saw a woman pushing another woman, who I guessed to be her mother, in a wheelchair. They went slow and said nothing, just observing. I saw a family of seven, all on scooters. First came one little boy racing down the slight slope on his razor. Then his twin came after, another boy and then the sister. A few moments later, the father with a red scooter and power ranger book bag came racing after them, laughing shamelessly. The mom, going slightly slower, followed after him, smiling just the same.
Death exists, it is inevitable, and it is entirely possible I could come home in December and be greeted by one less person than who I waved off to in August.
Yet, there is so much life in the world. There are seven billion people alive right now, and the cycle never ceases to continue. There is a tree in Oxford’s college Christ Church that is over 600 years old and whose ever-winding branches are held up by wooden pikes now. It endures. We endure. Life endures.