The fall of my junior year of college, I arrived in London to study abroad. I was fully neurotic, perpetually anxious and absolutely no fun at all. Here I was in LONDON and I was supposed to be having the MOST AMAZING EXPERIENCE OF MY YOUNG LIFE. Yet, for almost for no reason at all, I was sad. Really sad, so sad that I wanted to leave, go back to America, get married to my Canadian boyfriend, give up all my dreams and never have to make another decision again.
On a particularly bad day two months into my trip, a day where I almost booked myself a ticket back to the States, I decided instead to go to church. I was raised Catholic and being in a church anywhere in the world still feels like coming home. I’d like to say that I was wandering my neighborhood and out of the London fog rose a steeple and below it, a old wooden door with a round knocker and I found my solace there. But it was 2009 and what really happened was I googled “Catholic Church near me” and walked the .3 miles there. I knocked on the door, which did really have an amazing medieval knocker and a short, gray-haired priest opened the door. I said, choking back tears, “Hi, I’m Maura I’m an American and I’m really sad but I’m Catholic, so I thought I’d just drop by.” I gasped for air. There was a pause. He blinked and then said, “Umm, hello, Moira, why don’t you come in for tea and a biscuit and a chat, because you've just dropped out of heaven and I have not a clue who you are..."
He took me into the rectory and I told him everything, how I started having panic attacks, how I was scared about living here and mad at myself for being scared, and how all my friends just wanted to party, but I felt like it wasn’t real life, I wanted to leave, to leave the acting school I had worked so hard to get into, to drop out, to do something else, to become someone’s wife who wasn’t even asking me to, by the way, someone who wanted me to stay in London, who loved me because I was strong. I finally paused. I had nothing else to say so I took a sip of tea.
He looked up at me and said, ever so gently,
"Moira, you have one million dollars in your hand
and you are about to drop it to reach for a paper clip.
Don't let your emotions get in the way of reality."
It was the same advice everyone was giving me, and I don’t know, maybe because this time the voice of God was behind it, I was able to step back out of my self-inflicted misery and actually hear it. After that day, I was able to begin the hard work of patching the dam in my mind to hold back the floodgates of my fears. And with time, like everything, it ended, my sadness ended. Study abroad ended. College ended. That relationship ended.
What Father Tom said to me that day is the best advice I have ever gotten. I am prone to get so emotional, so in my own way, that I find it helpful every so often to look into my palms and see, truly see, what it is I am holding before I panic and let it go. Is it a million shiny bucks, or is it a crummy paper clip?
In the end, even though I was a small sad little disaster, I do think I made the most of my time studying abroad, because I got a truly unique, very British experience that the guidebooks don’t tell you about: English Catholic priests brew a really strong cup of truth bomb tea and they are only just a Google search away.
|St. Etheldreda's in Holborn, London|
This piece, a rework of an older post, was originally performed at Story Club Southside on February 18, 2014.