Many people discover that a gap year (taken at any stage of life) does unexpected and wonderful things to their sense of identity and purpose in life. Get away from your own context and culture, experience the Big Wide World! For me the months ahead are also about a between : between, that is, the that where we have been until now, and the other where we will find ourselves at the end. Who knows what the middle bit will contain?
However the idea of a ‘gap year’ does not fit my feeling, because I have this sense of movement - out of one thing and towards another, being borne along - I’m not standing on the brink of a 'gap’; not only, so to speak, a 'not’.
It is much more a ’something’, a 'there-wards’; there is a palpable 'yes-ness’ about it. So I’m leaning towards the idea of a bridge year. I’m intrigued to see where it takes us.
Apart from my daily apple, the only thing that I have committed to in advance for my stay in New York are the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. This is a year-long course of guided personal reflections in the field of life and faith, and in particular about a life with Jesus.
(I will doubtlessly also be setting myself other tasks that need exercising: I’m toying with various ideas … ballet lessons, perhaps? Or attending a life drawing class? Shall I volunteer in a hospice or look for choir-related work? All of these would demand practising skills, setting challenges, being self-disciplined. But if you know me at all you will know there also has to be a God-bit in the mix.)
I was raised in a very strongly Christian home, where every possible aspect of ordinary life was ordered by conscious choice according to a biblical worldview as we saw it, and often counter to the culture around us. This laid a foundation for me which I have valued and kept hold of all my life. But I have also always carried a sense of not-quite-right-ness about how this worked for me; so often a gap between my 'inside’ and my 'outside’ (I have called it an “integrity gap”) that has contributed to lots of horrid stuff in me, from unsettledness/unease to depression/ despair.
For over half my life I have carried one quotation with me: We must own our style of Christ-following: it must fit us and make sense in the public and private worlds in which we operate.
Read that again!
We must own our style of Christ-following: it must fit us and make sense in the public and private worlds in which we operate. Forging a real world faith, by Gordon Macdonald For me this 'fit’ has to be the whole point of faith, or of any life choices I make for that matter. How I spend my hours and day must work for me; how I relate to people, how I care for my body, how I create a home life for myself and those I live with, how I give myself to others around me - all the aspects of how I live - must add up, be in balance, create harmony. Must fit. I have always struggled to apply in my own life the way others choose to live their faith life; I have aspired to be or do like other people I have admired, but the stuff has just not worked for my life. Isn’t this is probably because I am not 'other people’ and others are not me? If I want something to fit me, it is no use raiding someone else’s wardrobe.
The Ignatian exercises are designed to help me explore, choose, practice and live exactly this.
One of the first tasks of this 'school of life’ has been to answer in brief a few questions about my background: my parents’s stories, my siblings, my early life, the qualities that have been given me by nature and nurture. And as I thought about my early years I discovered that one of the parts of my childhood home that I remember most warmly was the garden. It was a generously proportioned, walled garden, with enough space for games of cricket (home-grown ones, at least), a wall high enough to scrape my bare knees on when clambering up, a greenhouse where our rabbit Horatio and guinea pig Emma lived in winter, victoria plums for gorgeously gorging on in autumn, and a tree to climb. An apple tree. (I was always a bit of a tomboy.)
So there’s me getting a bit nostalgic as I ramble through lovely memories of happy childhood, and I then call my parents, now living near my UK home in Hertfordshire, for a bit of a catch-up chat. And Dad’s by now traditional telephone greeting - “it’s Anna! You’re a darling” - makes me poignantly feel the distance between myself and my family.
Dad, Mum, I’m so grateful for so much that you gave me over all the years of family life. Especially so much warmth and love, expressed in your bespoke and well-fitting way.
Back to my gap/ bridge question. Perhaps after all neither quite fits: bearing in mind we are going to be back home in a year’s time or thereabouts, perhaps I’ll give the Hobbit the last say on the matter (although I could and probably should quote T S Elliot/ Four Quartets, more lyrically and more grandly, on the same subject). He too went away on an adventure, and at some stage, after all sorts of unpredictable/ ordinary, delightful/ dreadful, challenging/ exhilerating, companionable/ solitary experiences, he returned home, at last to sleep in his own bed again. Changed deeply, yes, but still the same old Bilbo Baggins. That sounds good to me.
His story was of a journey: “there and back again”.
Panorama Bridge, Sigriswil