The city of London is a tragic but epic love.
Not every aspect of London is breathtaking, or even pretty by most terms. There is construction everywhere, obscuring pathways with little caution to pedestrians; the streets – although they are seasonally decorated with Christmas lights and artificial pine – are not always kept clean or even modestly tidy; don’t even get me started on the people, in a city this big, you’ll probably never bump into the same person ever again by coincidence, but there’s also no familiar and friendly faces waiting to greet you at your morning train stop. There is so much noise. I cannot obtain silence here, even when I close my windows, cram my head into the very depths of my pillows, and take a deep breath, my mind wanders to the city that never stops to take a break or even a quick breather for that matter.
I stood at the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral today. It was my first glance at the city as a whole. As I climbed countless (and I literally mean I lost count trying to take note of all the steps I was taking) I began giving myself a little bit of a pep talk to keep me moving upward and not just turn around and tumble back down to the crypt. I tried imagining what the whole city would look like as soon as I stepped out of the dome. I tried imagining what word I would use to describe the scene that would soon (hopefully) be before me. I tried imagining how rewarding it would be to have climbed ALL these stairs for the prize of a spectacular view just waiting for me a few (hundred) more flights ahead.
I’ve never climbed a mountain, but I would compare this to reaching the summit of a great mountain. It felt like the most pure air in the world as I took in that first deep breath, my legs stretched all the way out, standing up tall for the first time in what felt like decades, and slowly, my eyes adjusted to the bitter, bright light of an overcast sky.
Suddenly, I felt small. Not the small that you feel like you’ve been shrunken, but rather small as in you are insignificant, as in you always have been.
The city wasn’t the glorious skyline as I hoped it would be, in fact, it met none of my expectations I had been setting for it, not only the expectations I set as I trekked up the St. Paul’s mountain, but all the expectations I had been setting since I was a little girl watching Peter Pan fly over it.
I could literally feel my world come ungraciously tumbling in towards me.
I felt incredibly ignorant to have thought my expectations would be met by this city that I met through Disney animations. I felt ignorant to have kept my heart content with a fairytale about how wonderful this city actually is as I have walked the streets these past few days in awe and wonder.
Those words that I had imagined on my way up to this place that I thought would be used to describe what I saw in front of me – breathtaking, wonderful, fantastic, beautiful – and all the words I had imagined to describe how I might feel – awe-struck, wonderment, dazzled, content – fell short of what I was seeing now.
London was captivating, alluring, enthralling, and enchanting.
The noise got even louder as the church-bells rang, the flaws of the streets and construction sites had no place to hide, the people were everywhere. Yet all I could see is London, and that was enough.
London did not meet my expectations, because it cannot (and should not) even be calculated on the same scale as what my imagining has led me to construct.
I looked at the people and I saw myself. I was as little as them if we switched positions, we all were insignificant in certain ways. Mine just happened to be because I didn’t see the big picture until I had climbed a mountain and then looked out across the flawed and cracked and broken-down horizon.
I heard the noise that I am not accustomed to coming from rural USA, and I heard music. It was as lovely as a symphony and as classic as a vinyl with the sound of church-bells ringing at the lead, the river was the back-up, and the streets were the instruments.
I saw the flaws of a city, with construction obscuring miles of my view, and I saw growth. It wasn’t safety hazards and cranes that made up the unfinished lots, it was the beginning of something else, it was making a new city within the original.
All of this happened at once, but spanned out to feel as though it took a millennia. It happened so quickly it destroyed my world with a tumble, but it felt so long, a new empire rose up within me.
I see a new city that I have never really seen before, I walk different streets that I didn’t really know that well anyway, I see brand new people that I’ve probably never seen before, and probably never will again, I walk past construction on dirty streets, but my eyes are not on those, I look at the life, the busses as they speed past, the horns as the honk as people try and cross the road quickly, I look at the stories that London is so deeply embedded into.
I thought coming to London would be the last step to take to get and know London, away from a TV screen, away from a book, away from my imagination, but today taught me different when I really looked at London.
London is not always breathtaking, or even pretty by most terms, but because of that, I tragically and epically love it.