At Exter I tried to make friends with British students and fantasized that someone would invite me to their grand country home for the holidays, but as Christmas approached I realized I had to return home. A mousey girl named Barb was the self-appointed ring leader of the other American students, so I asked her if I could join their charter flight to the States. She agreed to help me if I would share my room with her at the ski resort in Switzerland where I planned to go after the New Year.
The Christmas charter flight was a fiasco: our Icelandic plane was delayed in Reykjavik for over twenty-four hours and we were stranded in a cold hanger with only our luggage to sit on and no way to contact our families back home. By the time we landed at JFK in New York I was exhausted. Barb asked me to carry a package for Tom, another American student who broke his leg when he was hit by a truck on a weekend visit to Oxford. I was happy to help.
But as I approached customs, I was nervous, not because of Tom’s package, but because of the lump of hashish hidden in my pocket. I thought I was in the clear, but suddenly the airport police ran toward me, yelling for me to stop. I thought my life was over. But customs was only interested in the package I was carrying for Tom. Luckily when the police unwrapped it they found a woolen blanket, a Christmas gift for Tom’s mother.
Still shaken, I retrieved my suitcase and used a pay phone to tell my parents I would be taking a bus from JFK to LaGuardia, arriving in Detroit later that night. My mother was furious with me and screamed that I had ruined their dinner plans for the second night in a row. Then she hung up.
My desolation was nearly unbearable. I was a stranger in England. I didn’t fit in with the Americans. I didn’t want to go home. There was nowhere I belonged. It was winter solstice, the darkest day of the year.
I sludged through falling snow and dirty slush onto the bus from JFK to LaGuardia, found a seat by myself, and began to cry. A girl sitting behind me leaned over and offered me a tissue. She asked about me and where I was going and then told me she was coming home after several months at a study center in Switzerland.
“Where?” I asked.
“L’Abri,” she said. “A wonderful retreat center run by Francis and Edith Schaeffer.”
How is this possible? I wondered. I told her about the letter from Suzanne Lewis and she gave me the address of L’Abri and the titles of Schaeffer’s books and I promised to write and make a reservation for July when my term at Exeter would be over. A tiny spark of hope broke through the darkness.