Ten years ago I arrived in a coastal Scottish town, a cobbled-street windswept place at the end of the road. It’s full of small cottages with low doors and soaring ancient ruins – all in the same deep grey rock. The wind sweeps across the sea from Norway and the golf-pilgrims arrive from America and Japan to walk this hallowed ground.
A year earlier I’d left school with such an intense feeling of relief, as if the door to my cage had been flung open and I could finally stretch my cramped wings and take to the sky. It’s not that it had been terrible, but looking back my overwhelming emotion is tension – I’d grown out of the mould that had fit so well at eleven and no one seemed to have noticed. I was anxious and frustrated and so ready so leave.
Now I was starting University. I’d got into my insurance place (a fate I was truly relieved by) and that meant I had headed nine hours north of home, to unpack my bags in this small shared room with a view over the lawn, sit myself on the bed by the window (the coveted wall-bed already having been claimed) and figure out who I was going to be here.
Four years later I graduated a stones throw away, in a black robe and red hood, some words muttered over me in latin as I knelt, a whoop from my sister in the audience.
It all seems like such a long time ago. The post-CU evening walks on West Sands. The nights we went to buy chips-n-cheese yet again because hall food was so terrible. English Literature tutorials in a little office with big windows overlooking the bay. Anthropology professors passionate about Central Asian textiles and Spanish Roma gender roles.
They were happy years. I loved learning, loved the history, theology, english literature, anthropology and development studies classes I got to take. I loved the friends I made – the many hours spent in each others’ rooms, flats, in coffee shops and at the end of the stone pier.
This new place gave me a chance to be a real-er me. I was still figuring out who that was, and some days it felt awkward and hard. I was growing out of the insecure teenager and anxiety stuck like a burr. But there were moments of discovery, and long months of feeling safe, feeling able to explore this new woman emerging.
It’s been ten years. A few weeks ago we drove east into Germany and picked apples in an orchard with one of my best friends, her husband, her two wee children. A generation of changes have taken place but we’re still the same people, still the same friends discussing work and church and love and future plans. Only now we spend our afternoon building play equipment in the back garden, taking our tea sitting in the sandpit while an excited boy hammers in imaginary nails.
How time passes so fast and yet stands still at the same time. It’s something I’ll never get my head around. Later this week we’ll celebrate four years of marriage. I stood at the back of church this past Sunday as one of my favourite old men told me he and his wife just celebrated forty years. Ten times as long as us. I can hardly comprehend so many years, and yet I wonder whether one day I’ll look back on this time and think it feels like everything has changed and nothing has changed.