I spent years anticipating this time. Somehow, so seamlessly it escaped my notice, the minutes became hours, which formed a day, and enough of those passed where I started calling them weeks and then months. And two months has now brought me to my penultimate day in Stirling. Sometimes beginnings, endings, and milestones don’t feel real. This one feels real. Everything is tinged with a hue of lasts, of final pictures, visits to our favorite haunts, and pending goodbyes. Remember being asked that question of if you’d want to know when you’ll die? I’ve been asked that; it’s hard to conceptualize knowing when you’ll die, but this kind of feels like it. Not death, of course, but an end, and knowing that it’s coming whether you want it to or not. I’ve always been one to answer no to that question, but as these last few days have shown, there is a certain amount of comfort in fully appreciating every moment knowing that time is limited. You get that closure that we so often want out of life yet don’t always get.
In one of my favorite kitchens in the world, a dry erase board on the fridge bore the words One should count each day a separate life. I don’t know about each day, but I approached this journey as a separate life, inscribing the first page of my travel journal with Day One. (We’re now on day 67 if you were curious). Travel has felt to me like life condensed into a short amount of time. We arrived clueless and excited, with everyone to meet and everywhere to see. We explored and grew friendships and became known, relaxed a bit in the excitement and cluelessness and grew in the appreciation and confidence. There is still more to see; there always will be. But our time has run its course and we’ll leave and say goodbye, hoping we’ll see each other in another time and place but not really knowing for sure. When I think about it, it’s that experience of life that gives me the gratitude and passion to live out my whole life to the fullest, the one that’s more akin to a marathon than a sprint. Sometimes seeing an image of something on a smaller and more comprehensible scale can bring you into fuller understanding of what it represents. So it has been for this separate live and the lessons it’s taught me about the bigger one.
Reflections aside, Stirling in and of itself has been a joy to live. Through my classes I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Stirling Castle, which sits bright yellow (no joke) on a hill. This fortress was once home to the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots, who was kept here when Protestant England considered her Catholicism a threat to the nation. That suspicion of her later took her life. Other famous characters have left their mark on Stirling as well, namely William Wallace, whom many Americans will recognize as Braveheart. A prominent figure in the Scottish fights for independence, a monument dedicated to him crowns the city, and if you climb all the steps to the top you get a beautiful view of miles of Scotland and glimpses of history along the way through artifacts such as Wallace’s sword, which I think is about as tall as I am.
We’ve certainly partaken of our share of the local culture in these last few days, highlighted in events such as the Bridge of Allan Highland Games this last Sunday, where we witnessed firsthand the feats of strength performed by men in kilts, activities such as hurling weights (or each other) and throwing logs into the air. Last night as our farewell the university put on a ceilidh for us, or a traditional Scottish dance. There we all enjoyed the music and perfected our folk dancing skills in the ballroom of a castle. A perfect way to end a term, if you ask me; I think Eau Claire should take notes.
While my journey will take me on to England and France after this, my second home and family in Scotland is something that I will not easily forget. And so it’s not goodbye really, but until we meet again. Whenever that may be.