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I don’t want to leave. Does anyone? How do you even prepare?
Really, I always knew it would come to this. I remember lying in my bed sometime in January, amazed that so much time had already passed. In some sense I suppose I could say with a wistful sigh or panicked shout, “It went by so fast!” But that’s not right. It went by exactly as fast as it seemed to go, unforgiving, merciless and straight on towards its inevitable conclusion: May 27th, 2014.
There’s no denying that while I am sad to go, I am ready. We, the Duluth students, have spent nine months preparing for this. At first, we consoled each other and bonded over things that we missed, celebrated the discovery of some favorite American product in a local shop. We pleaded our Stateside counterparts to send us culinary contraband, and in return we sent missives of postcards and English chocolate. We stayed up with each other for hours, talking about the lives we had and planning our first steps off the plane and back into what we left behind.
Missing things is really a way of life. After a while, my Missings became more like an itchy scar than an open wound. Before I had a chance to realize it, I was sinking deeper and deeper into a new pool of Missings. Just as I began to enjoy my new cell, I have to leave it. And so, the cycle begins anew.
My last week has been spent doing “lasts” and saying goodbye. Last time going to Asda. Last time buying good chocolate. Last burger, last pizza, last pub, last full English breakfast. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. How do you say goodbye to so many people and things with such finality? I’ve determined that there is no good way. Goodbye is really only as final as I make it, though, because in some sense nothing will ever leave me.
Fortunately for me, fate is a terrible weaver. In the great tapestry of life, my thread has been crossed many times with many others, and they have all left their mark somewhere – from the trinkets in my bags to the memories in my head. It’s weird how even the most insignificant actions can have the most profound effects on others. In this sense, we can make our actions a message to the future.
For this reason, in true V for Vendetta style (and because I’m a sentimental moron) I hid a note in my room for the next occupant to find.
I’ve got nothing on my mind,
Nothing to remember,
Nothing to forget.
And I’ve got nothing to regret.
But I’m all tied up on the inside,
No one knows quite what I’ve got,
And I know that on the outside
What I used to be
Crossroads, Don McLean
Of all the books I read in elementary school, there are two that I distinctly remember reading: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli and There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sachar. I cried for hours after finishing them – I sat up after my bedtime with my poor mom, who listened to me blubber about imaginary characters, and she told me that I had a big heart. I couldn’t understand how someone could irreversibly change someone’s life and just leave – the injustice of it all shattered my fragile psyche. And yet some part of me almost wanted to have my heart broken, instead of reading about imaginary characters to feel it in my stead.
Fast-forward to 2005. My family hosted the young girl who would later become my little sister in a program called Journey of Hope, which connected young eastern European orphans to midwestern families for a summer. The first time I can remember being in an airport was picking her up at Minneapolis-St. Paul International, and the second time was when we had to drop her back off. We led her through the throng of people towards security, and watched her trying to stay in the back of the line so she could say goodbye one last time. It was the saddest I could ever remember being, and we remained silent as we made the long drive home. In just five weeks, we had both welcomed a young spirit into our house and watched it leave us, irreversibly changed. The next year was filled with translators and meetings and long-distance phone calls, but eventually we achieved our happy ending and my sister came home.
All of this was in my mind as I walked away from airport security for the umteenth time this year, shedding a single manly tear. This time I wasn’t actually traveling anywhere; I was dropping my dad off on a flight back to Minnesota after a 9-day abridged tour of England and Paris. All in all, we did pretty well: Oxford, London, Malvern Hills, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Mona Lisa, Van Gogh… I had fun. It was sad, for a moment at least. Me and my big heart. Though all in all it was a much happier parting than the last time I had dropped someone off in an airport, as I knew that in less than two months I’d be seeing him again. But it occurred to me that my parents had been through something similar for three of their four children now… sometimes short term, sometimes long term. It’s funny how things work out like that, because I’d never have thought to call us such an international family, but since 2005 we kind of have been. I imagine it’s kind of mixed blessing for them, seeing all the places their children are going but also spending a lot of time saying goodbye in airports.
I remember when my mom first told me about the Journey of Hope program, and I remember five weeks later when she told me we would be adopting my sister. The future seemed like such a daunting concept even then, and through many tears and muddled emotions I told her that nothing’s going to be normal anymore, is it? To which she replied, no, I guess we have to find a new normal. I guess we did.
My god, what happened to February? Did January even happen? And now it’s April. I turn around and all of a sudden it’s spring break and we’re registering for next semester and I go back home in two months. Home… remember home? I thought I remembered home, but now I’m not so sure. Home sure feels like the place that I sleep, where I return to after a trip and where I write these posts. Home is where the heart is, and for sure I will be a leaving a piece of my heart in England.
A long, long time ago, on a lake far, far away… someone told me that my study abroad group would become a kind of family. I didn’t believe them. Traditionally I haven’t meshed well in big groups and I knew I was taking a gamble – but I lucked out. Seriously this has been the best seven months of my life and it’s in no small part due to the people I’m with. There’s no way I could have predicted pretty much anything that has happened so far, and I’ve always had someone to cheer with or complain to. It’s pretty great.
At some point in the last month the impermanence of our situation started creeping into our thoughts and conversation. We all know that this nine month experience will end eventually, but it’s making me really sad to think about it. This is the way I see it: in a year or two, most of us will be graduating anyway, and then we will all scatter into the great diaspora of life. Why rush it? After we get back, most of us are going back to Duluth, so why shouldn’t the friendships we made here survive the trip over the Atlantic? So I keep telling myself, though I know that real life isn’t quite so simple.
Above all, I will take this opportunity to enjoy what time and trips I have left. This past weekend we went to York. I suppose it’s fitting that I visit the original York before New York, where I someday hope to live (at least for a little while.) It’s a testament to how comfortable that I’ve become with these people that I worked up the courage to make a video featuring people other than myself. The videos are generally a lot of fun to make, and they’re a great way to share what I’ve been doing to my stateside audience. But, of course, my videos serve another purpose: they document my year in a way that text never could. Thanks to this uniquely 21st century technology, I will be able to look back at myself in decades to come and really remember what a great time I had with my friends.
And who knows? Maybe we’ll still be in touch.
It was a beautiful early spring day, and after three hours of
purgatory class, I walked down to my favorite park and watched the sun set over Worcester. The sky was clear, or at least, clear by English standards; what clouds that remained were bathed in pink and orange light as the sun made its slow plummet towards the horizon between the Malverns and the Cathedral. I was reminded of the last time I had watched – really watched – a sunset: August 29th, 2012. That night I had driven out to one of my favorite places to watch the night fall, for less than 12 hours later I would be leaving for Duluth, and everything would change.
See, I wasn’t used to change. In my eyes, I haven’t changed since like middle school. I mean, once I discovered the Beatles and got my first computer, the stage was pretty much set for everything that came after. Even most of my clothes are 4+ years old. But the thing you have to realize about change is that it has a nasty habit of sneaking up on you…
This past weekend, the UMD group went to Wales. We set off at the crack of dawn (7:30am!) and drove and drove and drove. Wales came into view like John Green describes falling asleep: slowly, then all at once. The suddenly tiny coach bus was weaving on and off country roads, through narrow village streets and between snow-capped mountains. It was surreal; the clouds seemed to part as we crossed the border and once again enveloped us, slowly making their way across the jagged terrain.
Our destination was a hostel in the national park of Snowdonia, but we were in no hurry. We made stops in the villages of Portmeirion and Beddgelert, and finally, in the late afternoon, we reached the hostel, Idwal Cottage. Idwal sits in a valley, dwarfed by its mountainous surroundings yet humble in its aims. The group arrived to find warm beds and began preparations for a hot meal. Myself and two others took the opportunity to seek out a winding path towards the mountain lake.
I can only imagine what it would have felt like, as a settler to the area, to see the mountains for the first time. Stone walls and fields spread wide across the valley, as they have for generations. I thought about how it must have felt for people long ago, but it occurred to me that this landscape wasn’t inherently better than anywhere else; really, all landscapes are kind of equal, when you think about it. I suppose someone that lived in mountains their whole life would be as awestruck at the vastness of the Great Plains as I am in Snowdonia. It really calls into question our notions of natural beauty, and what we consider to be worth keeping around.
Saturday night was spent relaxing and, for those of us who had ventured outside, recovering from the wounds of our adventures. It was nice to have a meal cooked by someone who knew what they were doing, and afterwards, some of the group made use of the Welsh boardgame collection offered by our generous hosts.
The coach bus set off once again through the mountain valley for the return trip. We stopped at Caernarfon Castle, which fulfilled all my expectations of what a castle should be: “big” and “maze-like.” As we made a loop around the castle walls, ducking in and out of towers and staring down pits, we imagined what each room could have been, and the daily lives of the castles’ inhabitants. This castle had dominated the city for hundreds of years, a bastion of stability in the ever-changing chaos of the world. And now, old and tired, a husk of its former glory, it played host to our tiny troupe, intruders in its once-noble halls.
After Caernarfon, we embarked once again, this time for the city we now call home. Before I knew what had happened, we were on the highway and Wales had disappeared from view, like nothing had happened.
We made a short stop in the city of Chester, but the magic of Wales was gone. Chester is home to Roman ruins (they really are all over the place) and ruins of one St. John’s Cathedral. Set high in the wall, above what remains of an altar, is an ancient oak coffin that reads “Dust to Dust.” Standing in the ruins of the cathedral, it’s easy to see that nothing, no matter how we try to preserve it, lasts forever, and we are all subject to the power of time.
Because that’s the thing about change: it happens slowly, and then all at once.
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Some of you may know that I spoke at my high school graduation. I guess I’m still proud of that speech, for the most part, but there’s one part in particular that sticks in my memory:
During high school I came to develop an image of myself, a certain set of things that Mitchell Rysavy knows about himself and what he believes and what he wants to do with his life. Actually, if there’s one thing I’m most sure about, it’s my future self. Past Mitchell can be a jerk sometimes, but I’ve found out that future Mitchell is a pretty cool guy that you should totally hang out with sometime. So I’ve learned I don’t need to be too concerned with the future, because if I do my part now, future Mitchell’s got my back. Or… front? Whatever.
My freshman year ended up being the best and most challenging year of my life up to that point. Gone were any expectations set by anyone who knew me, and gone was any preconceived ideas of what Mitchell Rysavy would or should do when he walks into a room. Unlike many, I don’t think I changed that much, but I did notice that many of the truths that I held to be self-evident about myself started crumbling. I started to question their use as a foundation for Mitchell as a person, and in doing so I slowly redefined myself in this new light. I gave myself a tuneup, if you’re the kind of person that uses car metaphors for everything.
The point is, after a successful freshman year at UMD, I somehow managed to ensure that I wasn’t going right back for a successful sophomore year – instead, I’d be going to Worcester taking a gamble in the success department. Why? I get this question lot from everyone, and from myself most of all. Why did I come to the University of Worcester? Why Worcester? Why England?
The truth is, even after three months here, I don’t have a nice, prepackaged answer to these questions. I don’t really know – but logically there must be a reason. I didn’t really choose the University of Worcester specifically, and – interestingly enough – I didn’t come here for academics. I just came because I saw an opportunity to do something different, and it fit with the new Mitchell – the same Mitchell who found his way to classroom on his third day on campus, and listened to a presentation about coming to some place called Worcester.
I didn’t do it because I have some greater life plan that it fulfills, because I still don’t think that far ahead. No, I came here because I saw that I was changing and I liked it, and I trusted that post-Worcester Mitchell would be near-unrecognizable from the person that gave that speech not so very long ago – I just needed a little push to get there.