Have you ever had the feeling that you are exactly where you should be in life, doing exactly what you should be doing? It’s a rare enough feeling with me, but one that occasionally strikes with the force of a reassuring lightning bolt. It came to me clearly as I sat on a shaded bench in the churchyard outside Shakespeare’s burial place, leaning over my notebook and glancing around occasionally at the golden light streaming over deep greeen trees, sweetly smelling fresh mown grass, dappling the water in the wier. This was the perfect fall day, the fall day upon which all early fall days should be modeled. And every day for me should be like this day: a walk in lovely surroundings, a time for quiet contemplation, good food, tea, and theatre waiting at the end. And writing, of course, plenty of writing. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is the way I feel called to spend my life.
But saying that feels hollow: I feel like the inmate of an asylum sidling up to a hapless visitor and whispering confidentially, ‘I’m not meant to be here, you know.’ For the truth is I have a real life which is not at all like the quiet, lyrical purpose that I feel on this lovely fall day. I have other responsibilities, other cares, other duties. These are calling me back to London at the moment of writing these words, my train speeding me away from this lovely dream life which I wish were mine.
But how many people ever even for a moment get to have that blessed feeling, the sense that all the elements of the universe are aligned perfectly, that you have found your rhythm and you are occupying exactly the right spaces in an intricate complex dance–not crashing headlong into the bodies around you but harmoniously, synchronously, gloriously waving your part of the pattern? Even a moment of that feeling is precious. And perhaps the best thing is when such a moment arrives to revel in the joy of it: to feel completely the sense of purpose without being distracted or troubled by its fleetingness. To let go of other moments and embrace the sense that I am being the exact person I want to be, doing just what I want to be doing, allowing this moment to become the only moment.
Stratford-upon-Avon really is lovely. It is a small place whose ebb and flow revolves around the historical interest of being Shakespeare’s home village, and around the RSC theatre. Yet unlike many places I have visited whose major industry is tourism, Stratford doesn’t feel engulfed by it. Yes, there are some shops full of branded tat and the occasional less-than-skilled busker but it retains the feel of a sleepy, somewhat scholarly village. On the day I left the Town Hall was having an open house, the Mayor standing in the front room proudly wearing his official seal and greeting each individual visitor with a handshake and a few kind words. As I stood there, one of the Olympic torchbearers (of whom there was a photo in the small case of town relics) walked proudly past in his full Olympic torchbearer outfit.
I think having the RSC there helps as well: the constant flow of artists through the town, which is small enough that you’re likely to see them all down t’pub of a Sunday evening. And all those visitors are there because they love Shakespeare. Everywhere I went people were talking about theatre: a crowd of American acting students discussing the technique in ’12th Night’, a retired couple critiquing the staging of ‘The Tempest’, a mother and daughter discussing the themes of gender and social position in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. I could walk into any pub with my book, sit quietly reading and not be looked at as an oddity. Everyone was literary around here.
And friendly! Perhaps the hustle and bustle of my vinegary London life made me forget the amiability of Britain in the countryside. Or perhaps the special spirit that overtook the capital during the golden summer of 2012 has actually permeated the national character as well. Whatever it is, people everywhere were amiable, eager to converse, and solicitous.
Wandering in the golden afternoon light, all things seemed somehow enhanced–the colors deeper, the smells sweeter. Something in the quality of the light made me think of my home country north of Boston, whose prime season is incontrovertibly the autumn. This time of year is so beautiful there, and the local countryside reminds me of it, though lacking my favorite thing of all: the glorious and most splendid changing of the leaves.
The small cold snap we had a few days earlier would have made te kind of bright, chill morning we used to get back home around leaf time. The splendor of the colors–that sort of indescribableness, that perfection of season, is exactly how I felt about this afternoon.
The epitome of fall weather in my childhood was Topsfied Fair, with its agricultural exhibits, its handicrafts, its stalls of food, its midway. Its placid camel and elephant, carrying punters in endless circles.
And apple cider donuts! Not made with the sparkling hard cider of Britain but the tame, cinnamonny cloudy cider of of my home. I love living in England, I love traveling the world and experiencing new things but by God the wide world is missing a fundamental joy by not having hot apple cider donuts. I could almost give up my high-flying life for them. Almost.
The train speeds on into the afternoon, pulling me away from the halcyon few days of my little break, and inexorably the moments tick towards winter. But the light of the lush golden sunshine is undimmable in my mind’s eye.