22: An hour
That morning, we got seats together by the open doors for lectures (moving air being a premium when air conditioning is non-existent). David Wenham was talking about the Sermon on the Mount, about its two groups of pronouncements—the first about God’s grace and the second, which can be “profoundly depressing,” about God’s standards, which are so high that no one can live by them.
I leaned over to tell Jack that I have such a hard time balancing those things, the grace and judgment of God. He said, “I’ve found in my life, the grace has to come first.” His answer was significant to me; I sensed that he understood my own struggles accepting God’s grace and was a step ahead of me in figuring them out.
Monday afternoon, the guys went out for a tour, and I stayed behind to take a nap, promising to look up info on Shakespeare in the Park and try to get tickets for that evening. But the tickets ended up being about $40 apiece, which seemed like too much to pay (especially after having just been to the Shakespeare Free for All in Carter Barron, where Sandy and I sat in damp seats under a spitting sky, praying it wouldn’t pour. The Shakespeare Theatre’s modern production of Midsummer Night’s Dream had been enthralling, with characters that looked like they were from the 40’s or 50’s and fairies with huge larger-than-life feathered costumes). Anyway, I didn’t want to spend that much money, especially when it was another production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, so I left a note under Jack’s door to let him know that I was going to walk through the park, and that I would come back and meet them for dinner at 6:00.
At lunch, Dan had mentioned a grassy spot by the river where the Oxford dons used to lay out naked. I wandered half a mile or so through University Park (which contains one of every tree that grows in England) the way he said to go, aiming southeast, continuing through a few gates, to the loveliest spot, with the small river on two sides, huge trees, and expanses of sun. I think what I liked most about it is that it is quiet, not in the middle of a byway. It seems you have to sort of know that it’s there. There were groups of people talking and solitary people sleeping. I found a grassy spot in the sun right by the river and sat reading, watching tourists and students come punting by from time to time, contemplating the lectures and the week ahead.
As I headed back, I was caught off guard by someone too far away for me to recognize, calling my name. Surely not me, I thought, and ignored him. But it was Jack (!), and it was me he was after. He had gotten my note and decided to track me down.
We purposefully neglected our 6:00 appointment to meet the other guys for dinner, and headed back through the gates and the trees to the grassy spot I just left, and sat for an hour or an hour and a half just talking. It was quiet, sunny and 75 degrees or so—perfect. (I didn’t know the actual temperature for most of the trip because I never bothered to figure out the Farenheit-Celsius conversion.) There was a loud crowd of tourists who managed to get their punt a bit stuck in the grass by the bank, and two ten- or eleven-year-old boys who stripped down to their shorts and eventually worked up the courage to jump in. We sat with our quiet conversation in the midst of the summer commotion. I’d never felt so comfortable, so at home, just sitting and talking.