Edinburgh: 20 Weeks of Gratitude, Week 2

Part 1: Nemo me impune lacessit

On Christmas Eve, someone asked if I miss living in Edinburgh, & my response reflected the ambivalence of my experience there. I certainly missed my favorite haunts in Scotland’s ghostly capital—Dagda Bar, The Mash Tun, Snax Café, Yococo, Turquaz, Balkanarama. I miss the feel of my different neighborhoods—The Royal Mile, Easter Road, Buccleuch Street. I even miss Drummond.

I miss our student union building & the special serendipitous place that its Library Bar will always have in my life—indeed, I miss those irreproducible moments the most—celebrating the actual end of the world in 2012, observing the Scottish indyref in 2014…

I know what I remember fondly, but it took me a while to find the words to explain my gratitude. Because, of course, there were so many generous people and deep discussions and lucky breaks and fraught experiences that I’m grateful for—but what did it all mean? How to make sense of a place that simultaneously built me up & tore me down? A place of both love & shame? Then it occurred to me: I’m grateful that Scotland allowed me to be naïve.

It started from the very moment I decided to go; I had no idea how privileged I was, how prestigious the institutions were, how world-class the happenings would be at my very doorstep… I didn’t even know of the roots to things that would define me later—didnae step foot into a Scottish Episcopal Church, for example.

Edinburgh let me learn—the slow way, the hard way, iteratively, incrementally. It let me make a fool of myself too, though no one ever said that to me; and in my very last months there, I found myself walking into Augustine United, a church I‘d seen hundreds of times but had completely ignored, saying “hey, I don’t really know what I believe.” They replied: “of course, welcome, that’s totally normal and fine.” I hadn’t considered that at all.

I thought I’d lost the plot in the damp closes of Edinburgh, but it was all a preamble. I thought I left that city without an identity, but apparently, a deeper sense of self had been forged.

Cheers, pal. Thanks for tearin’ the tartan wi’ me. I’m still finding the words.

Part 2: Christine

“Thought my faith was misplaced,
Thought my back was broken;
Broken by a weight,
that I was never fit to carry.

I thought I knew this city,
Thought I knew all about it,
And then one night I went to Morningside
and you were waiting—

I met you
I met you
I met you
I met you.”

It wasn’t in Morningside. It was 13 Bristo Square. Like the protagonist in this Proclaimers anthem, I too met you someplace in Edinburgh, & I also thought many a thing at the time.

You weren’t waiting—I was. There‘d been a lull in the conversation when you walked in; you saw me there & chose to sit beside me. You soon learned that I was a talker. You said you were from Seattle and I said something about Nirvana. That’s how I met you.

You’ve always liked a good story and a good song. You appreciate sentimental gestures and inside jokes. Sometimes, we manage to combine all four, like when we convinced our photographer to let us recreate the Sunshine On Leith album cover on our wedding day in Paphos. It was stupid and I love it so much.

We do everything our way. My favorite is when we find something hilarious; we try to show it to others but they don’t really think it’s that funny. That only makes me laugh harder. Those fools.

I’ve told you how I don’t think my writing is all that personal; there are experiences I draw on & observations I make—but anything truly madly deeply personal, I find impossible to articulate.

It’s why I’m always quoting lyrics. It’s why I find stories so moving—especially yours. I’m stirred so thoroughly, I can hardly take it. That sort of thing could be wildly inconvenient, but you read me well and you value my tears.

I thought that I was finished. I thought that I was complete. I thought that I was whole instead of being half of something. But then you sat next to me and you said: “hi, what’s your name?”

Part 3: Isabel

There’s a song I always hum when I think of Isabel. It’s called “Isabel,” & it couldn’t be less appropriate for the Isabel I know. But it’s catchy & we’ve always bonded over music, so I like to remember it.

Ours has been a liquid modern friendship. We met in a Facebook group for travelers & formed our first impressions through sarcasm & wordplay. Little did I know that her friends had set up an emergency check-in system for our first meeting, in case this internet rando was a touch more than random. She forgot to text them, which I took as a good thing.

Our friendship has always been media-saturated & somehow maintained over several transcontinental journeys in both directions; one of our richest conversations happened via Wi-Fi somewhere over the Atlantic. We were indeed often in transit—in the airport to see Rammstein in Birmingham, on a bench waiting for the sun to rise after Holy Other in Glasgow.

Hallmark moments for restless millennials.

But none of these frenetic & hypermobile things define who Isabel is to me; they only come to mind when I think really hard. No, Isabel is an old soul—the postmodern is merely our medium.

This is a photo of a postcard she sent me from Cuba some years ago; I received it in Scotland three weeks after she’d already visited me there & left. There’s something about those mismatched rhythms that speaks to the person I’ve known & this friendship I’ve cherished. Our richest conversations happen in transit because everything’s connected, as she’ll often say—it’s how we manage to form memories at a sad Cypriot bus stop on her way back home from my wedding. It’s how we can have months of radio silence but still know just where to pick up the conversation.

I’m grateful for Isabel’s warm anachronisms as much as I love the techno beat of our cybernetic story. It’s the side of her I’ve known over coffee, listening to my spiritual confusion. That’s the Isabel that hums in my mind’s ear; a woman of science with a mystic’s heart.

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