Monday, February 27, 2017

English Sheep

      Last June, I was given the extraordinary opportunity to go on a literature-based trip through England with some of my peers and one of my favorite high school teachers. You may recall my post, "Problem Child," in which I wrote about my English adventures and included some photos from the trip.

      The past few weeks (or perhaps months, if we're being honest) have been hard on my body and hard on my mind. This weekend has been one of the longest and scariest that I have experienced since middle school, and unfortunately due to Mardi Gras break it won't even be over until Wednesday. I have called my parents in tears way too many times and the prospect of more medical tests and more specialists makes it feel like someone is pushing my head back underwater every time I try to come up for a gasp of fresh air.

      As I have spent countless hours curled up under my comforter hoping and wishing and praying that the pain would go away, I have found my thoughts drifting back to a single anchor: sheep.

All of the white dots are sheep

     On the literature trip, we were able to spend a good portion of our time in the countryside, traversing through green, picturesque hills and following the comforting babble of quiet streams, trying not to fall as we steadied our boots on slippery black pebbles. On one of our first nights in England, I went with some friends to wander around the countryside in the early evening after we finished dinner. It was chilly outside and I remember having swollen knees and fingers and being tempted to head straight for bed, but I am so glad that I decided to tag along. As we followed the gravel road away from the hotel, we found ourselves captivated by the dozens of sheep that grazed peacefully through the bright green grasses. I was as fascinated by them as everyone else, since stumbling across flocks of sheep never really happens to me in my hometown, but I definitely did not think as much of it then as I do now.

     Everything sort of feels like chaos. My body is a wreck and as a result my mind is a wreck. Mardi Gras has obliterated my normal routines and everyone is loud and all over the place. There are dozens of Walgreens prescription pill bottles scattered on my desk and in my drawers, and I am currently on two medications that I have not yet found the energy to learn how to pronounce. Every time I check the "health issues" section of my hospital's personalized patient portal I find something new. My physicians have entered into the system issues that I did not even realize I have. But in the midst of what has been a chaotic and overwhelming year, my mind settles when I focus on sheep. They are quiet and tranquil animals. They never cause a scene. They are easily frightened but never frightening. They are content with grass, sunlight, hills, and each other.

     I have always loved cities, but whenever I am sick I long for the comforts of a small town. I have never lived in a small town or rural area, so perhaps I am over-romanticizing them, but I like the idea of everyone knowing each other's names and of gazing up at the stars at night. I like the idea of befriending sheep and of looking out of a kitchen window only to find rolling hills that seem to stretch for eternity.

A flock of paper sheep given to me for free in England. Their names are Magenta,
Cilantro, Tangerine, Cerulean, Violet, and Christian. Shout out to my roommate
Allison for assisting in the naming process and accepting them as a part of our room.

    I went to England expecting to love London, with its twinkling city lights and busy energy, but what I ended up loving the most were all of the sheep in the countryside. There is something so enticing about a content and simple life. It seems that sheep have far surpassed me in the whole "figuring out life" process, so perhaps learning from them is not such a peculiar thing. I dug through my disaster of a desk drawer this morning and pulled out the small blue journal I took with me on the trip. Under Day One, I wrote "Sheep!" and under Day Two I wrote, "All the sheeeep." I think I was supposed to get something more academic out of the trip, whether it be insights about Shakespeare or a new perspective on the Brontë sisters, but while I certainly learned quite a lot about English literature, the most impactful lesson that I learned came straight from English sheep.

    Is it weird to miss sheep? Probably. Could I have had this same experience in a rural area of the United States without journeying to an entirely different continent? Perhaps. Regardless, I wish I could spend an hour or two in the English countryside today. I wish I could hang out with some sheep and wander through tall grasses. I wish I could dip my fingertips into the cold, flowing water of small streams and feel a shiver run up my arm, just electrifying enough to remind me of how fully alive I am. I wish I could feel like the world is teensy tiny again instead of huge and overwhelming.

     More than anything, I want peace. I want peace from all of the stress and pain of living with rheumatoid arthritis. I want everything to be spoken in whispers and kindness. I want simplicity and ease. I want spontaneous phone calls with friends and family and laughter that is light and airy. I want to bake with my sister while we discuss everything under the sun. I want to focus only on loving people, on staying with my flock, and on being kind. If sheep can prioritize these things, then so can I.

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