One December evening not too long ago, I sat down in the Helwys Dining Hall of Regent’s Park College to dine with students and fellows of that University of Oxford college.
The young student sitting to my right hailed from northern Ireland. She studied English at Oxford. I soon learned that the young man to her right was an American. He came to Oxford to work on a post-graduate degree in history after attending undergraduate school in Minnesota.
These students came from wide and far, but they could have been in Murray, and I could have been at Winslow Dining Hall.
When the young man from Minnesota mentioned that his alma mater was Bethel College, I immediately recognized it as the school of Paul Reasoner, my friend and teammate on a basketball team I had played on one hot and humid summer in 1978, in the Philippines of all places.
In 1978, we had spent five weeks sometimes playing two or three games a day in Mindanao, the southernmost island in the Philippines.
Now, Reasoner happened to have been the young man’s philosophy professor at Bethel.
So we enjoyed making this connection over our dinner of chicken and vegetables in the Regent’s Park dining hall.
When I returned to my flat after dinner, I realized that a circle had been connected, or as we say it in western Kentucky, I had come full circle.
For it was Reasoner who at the end of our five-week summer basketball tour of Mindanao casually mentioned that I should read C. S. Lewis, one of his favorite authors.
I had never read anything Lewis had written. From the Philippines, I returned to my western Kentucky home for only a week before taking off for graduate school.
That autumn term, in the intervals between writing research papers, attending seminars and taking examinations, I read C. S. Lewis.
I read C. S. Lewis and I read about C. S. Lewis and his years as an Oxford don at Magdalen College.
Somewhere between his books “Surprised by Joy” and “Mere Christianity,” and his children’s series “The Chronicles of Narnia,” when I came under Lewis’ spell, I also came under the spell of Oxford, never dreaming that I would ever really get to visit that “city of dreaming spires.”
That was 30 years ago, and then almost a third of a century later, in my own middle age, I visited that city with colleges founded in the Middle Ages.
And it was all because of an off-handed remark, a reading suggestion, made by my friend and basketball teammate. I had come full circle.
William Zinsser, the author of “On Writing Well,” tells us of “the circuitous routes” that we take to get to where we find ourselves to be. How heartening that often in those circuitous routes we come full circle.
Or as T. S. Eliot put it in “Little Gidding,”
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
Column by Duane Bolin, Professor of history