I’m learning. I have been walking on this earth for nearly 30 years, my footsteps circling its circumference a few times, my smiles beaming sun rays, my tears forming vast oceans, my face a map of emotions, thoughts, feelings, fears and desires.
I’m learning. I never said I know everything, I sometimes claimed I know something, I’ve somehow learned when it is time to say nothing.
I’m learning. I am trying not to judge and not fear being judged, I make mistakes and try to make up for them, I am far from perfect, I am far from home, I am far in the distance and close in the picture.
I’m learning. I am growing up. I still feel like a child in a grown up world, in a world I feel I don’t fit in, a world that I am sometimes not strong, or hard, or thick skinned enough.
I am learning. And still, I feel I don’t know enough. I am learning though. I am trying. I will not stop. I will not stop learning.
It is not cold and it is not warm. It is a mild afternoon. I am wearing a short sleeved t-shirt, and a pair of black jeans with a belt I am now regretting, mostly because it is too tight and I can not really loosen it in public without looking like a perv.
The noise from the Starbucks I am sitting in is a mix of elevator jazz, an angry discussion in Indian, a passive aggressive discussion in English, and an Eastern European (Polish?) quiet chat between lovers where the looks say more than the words.
I was on a plane two weeks ago. It was mid day, and I was sitting by the window. As we started our ascend, streets became grey grooves, people became dots, and the image started slowly blurring, turning grey, then white, and then we were in the clouds. We stayed there for a bit, and as I started getting a bit anxious, the first rays of sunshine made my pupils contract. I could not divert my gaze; it was beautiful. A carpet of clouds, thick and heavy, spread as far as I could see and I felt like I was walking on it.
I thought of the past few months, and how I felt like I was stuck in a cloud too. Sometimes under, being rained on; sometimes in, vision blurry; sometimes on top, looking at the stars. This reminded me of my guided meditation from Headspace, where Andy says that it is like looking at the sky, and not seeing the sun, because the clouds are in the way. The clouds are the thoughts, and the more you fight them, the thicker they get; however by meditating the clouds slowly clear, and the sun shines through. The sun has always been there, behind the clouds – it was just hidden.
I spent a week in Greece, a mix of family time, me time, and decompression. Time spent wondering what I am doing, collecting pebbles at the beach, reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell and stuffing as much Greek food I could in my mouth before leaving.
The trip back was different. There were no clouds, only a clear night sky; even though there was no sun, the earth seemed to glow from the inside, and I felt its glow warm my skin like a hug.
I am now back in London, back to work, back to reality. My tan is fading in days that are not cold and not warm, in mild afternoons soundtracked by Starbucks, in coffee that tastes of cinnamon and memories that taste like home, in electrically charged clouds full of thunder and hope.
Do you believe in bucket lists? Not in the way that you would believe in Santa, or ghosts, or the now classic Book of Mormon tune; I mean, do you- would you do a bucket list?
I think that bucket lists are the optimistic version of ‘what I have not achieved before death‘. It is the glass that is half full, but the person holding it is realising that the room is getting hotter and hotter, and soon enough he is sitting in a sauna with the water dissipating into vapour.
I think I am daunted by the things I would like to achieve before I, you know, passed away. I am not really ok with the notion of death, even though a few years ago I proclaimed that I am totally comfortable with it. I remember during a philosophical discussion that could only take place within the confines of a student residence I said that I thought that death is absolutely normal, the end of the cycle, a part of life, and other Lion King wisdom. Then, my grandmother died, and the concept of her not existing anymore baffled me. I could not wrap my head around it, simply because it was void: I was required to accept the absence of something that was there one moment, and gone the next. I think I was (and still am) perplexed, not so much about the physical side, but mostly the ‘soul‘ side of it. Yes, the body is the vessel, but how, how on earth does this person’s essence dies? It is enormous, and beautiful, and ugly, and true, and fake, and powerful beyond words and emotions, so how can it just stop existing?
I had to come to terms with more losses in the past few years, and I am none the wiser. So as I was on the bus, listening to Being Boiled on repeat, my eye caught a big blackboard by the side of the street. I had walked by that spot so many times, and yet this was the first time I actually noticed it. I got off at the next stop, walked back, and looked closer.
The heading was ‘Before I Die’, and under it lines waiting to be filled. On the side there was a deposit of chalk. I started reading the entries, and there were wishes of wealth, travel and love, moments of humour and droplets of pain. I thought for a moment what I would write; my mind was blank. The only thing that came to mind was an answer that was as cliche as it was true: to live.
I stood and looked at it; there is something intensely powerful about it. The fact that you have to first erase someone else’s entry in order to write your own seemed to have an almost poetic quality, mirroring how sometimes in life, your wishes don’t come true because someone else’s did and how the cheers of your success might be a blanket over the sorrow of someone else’s failure.
I later googled the piece and I found out that it was by Candy Chang, and there are walls like this one around the world. A global bucket list, a chalk board mirror of the human nature, mortality, hope and the invisible threads that connect them. A chalk outline of a life that waits to be lived.
I ordered a hibiscus tea and found a place to sit. It is a small table by the window, with a spotlight spewing white light on it. I can see my reflection on the window surface, mingling with the world outside, my eyes shaded, the light catching my forehead and cheekbones, creating a strange collage of face and street. I take a sip, and it tastes like paint mixed with glue. I stretch, and try to push my shoulders back.
I seem to find myself in cafés a lot lately, and I mean his literally: I sit down, unwind slowly, and at the process, get myself back to me; find myself or at least the part of it I lost in the day, the part I did not hear, or neglect, or simply ignore even if that meant not pay attention to my own needs. I remember seeing a Twinings where this animated woman goes through land and see just to find a mirror image of herself; the two join into one, and through a few sips of Twinings, she is back to herself.
Now, I don’t know if it is the tea that has this effect, or the fact that I am sitting down and flat out refusing to think of anything else but this moment that has this effect for me. But when I find it, I get this tingling sensation, a very similar sensation to the one you get when you watch a person do something with great attention and focus; when they are folding laundry with a slow, choreographed way, taking great care of it. I feel this sensation spreading over my shoulders to my limbs, flowing down towards the ground like a discarded layer. In the laundry analogy, it is almost as if I am folding my day, taking great care of it; taking great care of myself.
The reflection is clearing out, and the street is not as prominent anymore. I raise my head towards the spotlight, and I can see the parts that were shadowed before. I look outside; I look ahead.
I took a step in the white thick fog. Life slowed down by the droplets of water that levitate mid air, unsure of their place, defying gravity, obeying the moment. London is enveloped by a stratus cloud that makes everything look breathtakingly ethereal and chillingly scary at the same time.
I am here, in the fog, and I go back to the times of uncertainty; the times where even though you can make out the shapes, you do not know what is around you, what waits ahead, what you left behind.
…and then you walk. One foot in front of the other. Slowly, steadily, feeling weak, not realising how brave you really are. You look back and that looks faraway, hidden in the fog. Will it clear up if you stand still, or should you keep moving? You decide to take another few steps, and with each step the fog is clearing up. You find your path, and you walk on it, and if this path changes halfway and does not lead to your destination anymore, you find your path again. There must be a destination, a purpose for your journey. So you walk. And the fog lifts. And you look back and you ask yourself ‘how did I cover so much ground?’.
There is speed in bravery. There is power in hope. And so, I walk.
I am sitting in a Starbucks, my elbows set on the long table I share with 8 other people. On my left, a woman is sitting with her hands crossed, staring at an invisible point in front on her. The couple next to her are arguing in Russian. On my right, a woman still wearing her fur coat, holding her bag on her lap, lost in her iPhone is stealing glances at the woman in a red dress who is talking in Spanish to someone on Skype- he wears glasses and smiles a lot; she doesn’t.
Across me, a girl is reading a book borrowed from a university library, and she is making notes inside, something that makes me flinch. Next to her, two women are correcting papers. I think they are physics teachers, as the white sheets are stained with drawings of arrows pointing up and down next to shapes and figures that resemble the physical world. They laugh about the mistakes of their students, and talk in between answers about other teachers. They are considering an answer: John would have given it a 4, but John is a softie; better give it a 3.
I take a sip of my vanilla rooibos tea, and I stretch. I allow myself to sink in this moment, next to these people, the soft jazz mingling with their chatter and their silence and their own moments. For a second, I am part of a painting on the wall of a cafe. I blend in; and so, I do.
I was walking down a brick path. The rain was falling down hard, and it could have made anyone question whether going out for a lunch break is the best idea under such torrential weather conditions; but I didn’t question it. My peacoat was zipped and my scarf was wrapped tight around my neck. My right hand was in my pocket, my left was holding my olive-coloured umbrella. I had my earphones on, but I was not listening to music. I was just walking down the brick path listening to the drum of the rain on my umbrella.
I took my iPhone out and put Wonder by Josh Record on. I inhaled so deeply it felt like it was never going to end, like I was claiming all the oxygen I had not breathed in the past few weeks. I closed my eyes for a second and did not open them again until I felt my shoulders relax. I looked ahead, and the brick path continued. I felt content. I felt like I was in that moment, every part of me, every thought, cell, fear and hope was in that moment and it was that moment that made it so magnificent.
I smiled, made a mental note to write this down when I have the chance, and to share my magnificent moment with you, and now as I write and relive it, I feel the same tingling feeling of peace crawling over me.
And so, I keep walking.