My sister D. just got back to the states from Scotland, where she was dropping off my niece, Isabel, for her first year of college at St. Andrew’s. D. mentioned that one of the beaches there is the one used for the iconic “running on the beach” sequence in Chariots of Fire. She then mentioned that Isabel had never heard of the film. This made me sigh. For two reasons. One: It makes me feel old. Two: Because I am so envious of my niece – being in a place like this at this particular time of her life.
Chariots of Fire came out in 1981. I didn’t see it at the theater, but I saw it when it was on HBO, so that must have been 1982, when I was 13. The famous segment of the men running on the beach was beautiful and inspiring. But it was the scenes at Cambridge — like the Trinity Great Court run — that affected me more. Those images of the ancient arches and chambers made me want some sort of equivalent university experience mired in tradition and lore. Yale’s faux gothic architecture was created in the 1930’s, but that was close enough for me.
I imagine myself in Isabel’s shoes — being 18 years old and attending the 3rd oldest university in the English-speaking world; running on those same freezing cold bleak gray beaches as did Eric and Harold from Chariots of Fire — It makes my head explode. I am excited for her and I am envious. Freshman year is such a giddily wonderful time – when you are open and optimistic and full of energy and wonder and openness for every possibility. And on top of that, to be in college in another country so far from home. The usual sense of excitement and novelty that comes with the first year at college must be multiplied exponentially. I long for those fearless days and envy her in her new environment. I remember Yale as if it were yesterday. I never thought I would be one of those Old Blues who, at 40, looks back wistfully at youth. But then, I never thought I would be forty. Period. But here I am.