“Do you have your Oyster card? Your keys? Your pen? Your umbrella? I ask my son Harrison these questions every weekday as he is fixing his tie in the mirror and pushing arms through the jacket with a school crest on the pocket.
I ask him those same questions when we are, the three of us, standing in front of the mirror, preparing to leave the house. Embarking on a day trip around London as part of our staycation.
When you are reliant on walking and public transportation to reach a preferred destination, you must first tick all the boxes before boots click on the pavement. Leaving something behind means difficulty or an adventure you talk about for weeks.
As we arrive in the tube station, I reach inside the purse resting on my hip, feeling inside a pocket for the hard plastic of my Oyster card when I discover it is missing. Crouching down, out of the way of crowds pouring through the kiosks, I continue searching and begin to panic a little.
I left it safely inside another purse hanging in a closet at home. When I hear myself say that to H and Harrison, a lump begins to form in my throat.
“I guess you should’ve asked yourself the same questions you asked me,” jests Harrison.
My Oyster card has automatic top-up which means I don’t have to think about having the right amount of money to ride a bus or a train unless my bank account is empty. “Should I walk back home and get it?” I ask H. “We have a lot of travelling to do around London.”
In the end, we conclude time is of greater value and the current mood, worth saving. H stands in line to purchase a new Oyster card. And I counsel myself out of feeling guilty.
After we step off the train at Westminster, I watch the heads of my boys towering above packed pedestrian crossings shrink to silhouettes as I stop and snap a picture of Big Ben. When we reach the floating platform of the water taxi, the attendant greets us with a scanner. I tap my new Oyster card on the surface and he smiles while saying, “You barely have enough to make it.” Nervous laughter erupts between us.
In Greenwich, we step off the boat, climb up a hill and stop to get our bearings. In search of the Painted Hall when a family walks past us looking familiar — American friends from Texas I met while on a writing retreat in the Cotswolds. What are the chances we’d meet up in London?
“How is your book coming along?” she asks after warm embraces.
Sometimes my faith is like a relationship with my Oyster card. I assume it is in good stead and where it needs to be as long as I prepare, ask the right questions, and I’m intentional about applying it in different contexts. But if I am unprepared, forgetful or chronically distracted, I become guilt ridden about not making more of an effort. I vacillate between surrender and control often.
Huffing and puffing our way to the tippy top of the Royal Observatory, we gawk on the Prime Meridian of the World while surrounded by tourists. We stand on the line representing Longitude 0º taking in a panoramic view of London on the Thames. In the city that won my heart, on the very place on earth known as the axis of measurement in terms of its distance east or west, a line dividing the eastern and western hemispheres of the Earth, I am aware of my smallness and how much I am loved.
I am thinking about how bumping into those friends was surprising but not random.
The delay caused by my lost Oyster card also resulted in a precise, timely intersection with familiar faces. A moment when everything in my world felt new, culturally different, and estranged from any previous Easter holiday, I bumped into a man who speaks in a unique Texas tone and cadence. A voice so similar to that of a beloved uncle, I could close my eyes and swear it was him standing next to me.
At times we all wonder, why am I here? How did I get here? What does any of this mean in the big picture? We can feel far away from home, droop into heartsickness and swallow our sadness with nostalgia.
We assign value to time by measuring how we use it while God assumes our time is valuable because He is with us.
While I am keeping a mental Moleskine on the ways I fall short, God reveals my perceived “mistakes” are often providence in the moment.
“I see you. I know. You are loved. You are my home,” I hear Him whisper — every time I use my Oyster card now.
Maybe it’s time to let go of being so hard on ourselves. Let’s stop defining ourselves by time, opinions, productivity and standards we create for ourselves. Let’s trust Him with our minutes; they are all His in the first place.