Crossing the Pond

Everyone has something that saves his or her life. Whether it be the love of a family member, years of counseling, or divine intervention, most people can pinpoint exactly what or who they live for and why they're alive. In the words of Father Woods at Dominican University, you aren't really alive until you choose to live.

A thought like this couldn't concern me when I was a child. I was an outgoing preteen, unafraid to speak my mind and try new things, with or without someone holding my hand along the way. Every time I bring up the sleep-away camp I went to during seventh and eighth grade, my mother exclaims "I still can't believe you decided to go to camp for a week all by yourself!" Looking back, I can't believe I did that either. Today, I wouldn't make the same choice. I don't mean to say that camp left a negative impression on me—quite the opposite, actually—but I could never take that sort of plunge again. I've grown introverted, and the thought of being away from home for too long frightens me.

But I did take the plunge again, even two years after clamming up and embracing my introversion. A previous teacher of mine invited me to travel abroad—these opportunities were by invitation only. The destination: London and Paris. Unable to decline this once-in-a-lifetime chance, I signed up to go and eagerly awaited this daunting adventure during which I would spend ten days in Northern Europe.

I was lucky enough that Anna, a close friend of mine, was also invited and decided to come along. Anna and I excitedly shared with each other what our hopes for the trip were—cute European boys, magnificent food, high fashion etc.—and counted down the hours until the day we left. On the overnight flight, I glanced around at all my classmates and travel mates asleep in their chairs. I was wide awake. How could they sleep when we were high over the Atlantic, halfway to Heathrow? Later I was sorry there wasn't another chance to sleep for twelve hours because we were herded into The British Museum as soon as we landed. Having not slept on the plane, I would drift off every time I sat down during the museum tour. "We can sleep when we're back in America," was a popular phrase used amongst the thirty or so students on this trip. On our walk to and from The British Museum, I took more pictures of the apartments and churches we passed than of the exhibits. I wanted to remember the English things I saw, and I marveled at the architecture of the city. Some of the buildings had been constructed even before The New World was settled, and I can hardly articulate what it's like to stand in front of something so old. What kinds of stories could these foundations tell?

On our second day in London, we were given three choices. We could go with one teacher to Oxford University, another teacher to Westminster Abbey, or another teacher to The Tower of London. Anna and I chose the abbey. Upon approaching the giant, ornate thing, I remembered how Westminster Abbey was a central setting in The Prince and the Pauper. The abbey itself houses a cathedral, various tiny rooms dotting the chapel on either side, and countless remains and tombs of England's most famous royalty.

Anna and I were allowed to go off and explore on our own with the guidance of an electronic tour. As shoes clicked the uneven, time-eroded stone floors and echoed all the way up to the vaulted ceilings, I was transcending time. The dull hum of the tourist crowd turned into Gregorian chants singing a haunting chorus. Everyone's "I heart London" t-shirts were replaced with rich red and blue gowns reaching down to the floor. Which queens and legends were baptized here? What alliances were made through marriage in this chapel? Through the maze of rooms and stairwells that made up the abbey, what scandals took place behind closed doors and around corners? The Renaissance unfolded right before my eyes, and I swear I could've reached out and touched it.

The tour ended too quickly, it seemed. I tried to memorize every possible sense from smell to sound to aura. I pulled aside a nun who worked for the abbey and asked if the urn for Prince Edward V was in the building. After some searching, we found it.

This urn is about three feet tall, skinny on the bottom and boxy toward the top. All white marble is engraved with black, old-English type face, all of it written in Latin. But I recognized two names, and those were the only words I cared about at the time: Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York. Inside were the alleged bones of the two princes who were only thirteen and ten years old when they disappeared without a trace. No one knows exactly what happened to them. Edward was destined to be king after his father Edward IV's sudden passing. Historians speculate that Edward and Richard's uncle, Richard III, is responsible for their vanishing and apparent death around 1483.

I stood in front of this urn between the nun and Anna, simply staring. Tears stung my eyes and threatened to make me a spectacle in the middle of the abbey side room. We had been in that very same room not ten minutes before, and I felt as if I had betrayed the princes for not seeing their final resting place sooner. I can still see this moment when I close my eyes. My heart thudded with adoration and happiness, my pulse rippling through my feet and deep into the stone below me. It resonated in the space around me and left an imprint on that spot, an imprint I knew would fade with the cleansing hand of time. The power of place put me right next to the great kings and queens of the past. Was I standing in the same spot Edward and Richard once stood? What of their imprints? Were they strong enough to withstand the ebb and flow of energy in this antique abbey, or were those imprints discarded with a great equalizing sweep of unbiased time? What felt like a spiritual encounter went unnoticed by everyone else in the abbey.

I wished I could've visited The Tower of London that day too, since that was where the princes were supposedly captured from while they waited for coronation day. I wished I could've visited Ludlow Castle up in the northwestern end of the country. It's old and crumbled now, but that castle, splendid in its glory days, was where the princes were born and raised. I wished I could've spent more time in London and absorbed more of its energy, but we were allowed only three days there. For the remaining seven, our group was scheduled to see Canterbury, Normandy, St. Malo, and Paris.

The princes' mother, oh how serendipitous, was Elizabeth Woodville. I stared at the name when I first saw it, smiling because of the fact that I live and grew up on a street called Woodville Lane. Who am I to deny that it's my fate to give these princes a voice?

More cities meant more history, and each venue only strengthened my passion for the past, particularly in Europe and particularly England and particularly the royalty. For someone who never knew what she wanted for most of her life, this trip was as perfect as it could possibly get. I knew I wanted to write as early as eighth grade, but I never had any substantial ideas I could say were worth spreading. I first learned about The Princes in the Tower in a passing comment in a history class, and from then on I did my own research about them. The more I learned, the more I loved them and their story.

I am a young, female Miniver Cheevy, thirsting for eras long gone. It was this visit to Westminster Abbey that solidified my absolute obsession with this exact scandal of English royalty. I decided then that I would write a novel—or two-about the princes. I can only guess what my life would've turned out to be if I had never taken a leap of faith and left the country on my own. Much like when I went to camp, I don't know what inspired me to do something by myself in a foreign place with complete strangers. But I am eternally grateful to whatever force it was.

I suffered through depression during high school. Being surrounded by people who could define themselves took its expected toll on me. I thought of myself as a blob amidst the aspiring doctors and actors and ambitious people in the world. I had always been a late bloomer, but I found myself by crossing the pond. My humble high school trip showed me something I hadn't even known I was looking for, and my excursion to Westminster Abbey brought me almost literally face-to-face with Edward and Richard. They spurred me to choose life. Saved by two princes, I could call myself a princess.