“Good morning!” the young man said to me as I rubbed my eyes and made my way around Paddington Station. He obviously worked there. I was caught off guard by his warm greeting. I was also slightly embarrassed. I must have looked quite sleepy.
I had just returned from five days in the English countryside, walking 8 to 9 miles every day. Readjusting to the frenetic energy of London, especially the day after the horrific terrorist attack on London Bridge, was difficult and jarring. I had barely scratched the surface of this mysterious city and already I was going home.
Trying to go to sleep, I kept hearing the birds chirping. But I couldn’t tell if they were actually chirping or if it was only in my mind. I had heard the birds - so many of them - chirping all day, every day on my walks throughout South West Devon. I suspected they had made an impression on me. Or, there were just a hell of a lot of birds chirping in the middle of the night for no reason at all.
Despite being physically exhausted every evening, walking extensively each day activated my mind and I found it difficult to fall asleep. There was so much to take in, on top of navigating the trails and roads so that I didn’t get too lost. Out in the open, the air was filled with the smell of wet hay and cow pastures. In the woods, wild garlic intermingled with the sweet fragrance of unknown flowers. My boots got caked in mud and sand. Stinging nettle taunted me on almost every foot path and though I did my best to avoid it, I ended up getting stung anyway while pressing myself up against a tall hedge to let a car pass.
I went from village to village but most of my time was spent out in the elements on my own. I had a lot of time to think. Questions kept popping up in my mind. Do I spend too much time alone? Do other women do stuff like this? I felt privileged to be able to do all of this exploring. I did feel lonely at times. Who wouldn’t? But I loved navigating alone. It felt very rewarding. There are some advantages to being a single woman alone. People are generally not threatened by you and they are more trusting. They also seem to enjoy helping.
In my London hotel room I had to force myself to turn the tv off. Watching the news was not helping. I walked out onto the busy streets and made my way to Marcs & Spencer to buy tea and biscuits to take back home. There was a scuffle. Someone yelled. Someone was accused of stealing items from someone else’s basket. The cashiers were amazed. I walked outside and gave change to a young homeless woman. I gave away all of my change, to any homeless person I came across. I had dinner in a small cafe overlooking the canal in Little Venice and treated myself to a glass of Prosecco to honor my last day in England.
I walked and walked until my eyes could no longer withstand the dust being blown into them on each corner. On the way back to the hotel, I walked by the famous Abbey Road Studios and came across the words, “All you need is love” scribbled on the wall and I felt strange. I walked by a large sign lit up to warn drivers that London Bridge was closed off. I noticed a post office and remembered that I wanted to send some postcards.
Finally seeing the hotel in front of me, I thought about going home the next day. My mind lingered on the word home.
I booked this trip to England as a birthday present to myself. I figured turning 40 merited a short overseas adventure. Something I haven’t done in years. The surprise and pain of the terrorist attack shook me. It wasn’t how I imagined my trip to England ending. The subsequent resilience I witnessed in London, though, filled me with awe and respect. If there were anything I could possibly contribute to America right now, it I wish it could be that.
(What I'm listening to right now: The Beatles - Hello, Goodbye, because, yes. Soundtrack of my childhood right here people!)