by Nathan Engstrom ’21
I have been studying in England at the London School of Economics since September, but COVID-19 brought a halt to what would have been the culmination of a very formative year for me. Spending a year in a new place gave me time to take ownership over a new environment. At first, it felt unfamiliar, and much of my energy was spent acclimating to all the newness. After a few months, my routines became second nature, creating space for me to properly invest in the people and places.
Think of your first year in college. It probably took at least the first semester to acclimate to the newness of campus and meet future friends. In the second semester, however, your new friendships began to blossom and take root. First semester was puttering down the highway at a cautious 55 mph; meanwhile, second semester was an exciting 80 mph road trip. I was just starting my “second semester” before COVID-19 hit London in early March.
I was upset. My road trip consisted of a new church community, actual British friends, more nights at the pub, a summer grant to extend my stay in England, and a city I now knew how to navigate without Google Maps. These people I was getting to know were going to be special. How is it fair that, in an instant, all of this potential was snuffed out? I am sure many of you feel this way. Senior year cut short, with such unfinished business in a wonderful place. And on top of that, for many of us, we were and still are forced to reckon with a world that seems so out of control. Last week, I rode my bike to Trafalgar Square, London’s most famous square, located outside the National Gallery. It was completely empty on a Saturday, something I am willing to wager has not happened since World War II.
However, since being alone in my room, my habits have taken on new meaning. They help me feel less lonely, more hopeful, and more secure. My guitar and my bike have taken on new meaning; I have played a lot of guitar and ridden my bike many times before, but now they have become a way for me to connect with beautiful music and cityscapes. They build up my joy in the face of isolation. After the virus hit, I began to consistently take thirty minutes each morning to read my Bible and talk to God. With fresh eyes, I poured over stories of men and women who felt out of control, out of depth, and upset by frustrating, life-halting circumstances, but were shown redemption, restoration, and comfort. Of course, the Easter story of Jesus, one where He stooped low to uplift us, is the most precious story of all, reminding me that I belong, and I am taken care of even if I do not have the answers to the hard questions of life.
While it is quite frustrating to be stuck in my London room alone, robbed of my ideal ending to an amazing year abroad, my hope and security are bolstered by what and by Who brings joy. It is quite difficult to keep calm and carry on, as the British say, without hope and security. Take some time to discover where your hope and security lie. I am all the more sustained after leaning into beautiful music, gorgeous cityscapes, and my faith’s stories.