‘How many of us have been drawn into worlds we previously neither knew nor cared existed, because a friend or loved one took an interest and pulled us in with them?’
(Modern Mrs. Darcy)
Last month Chris & I went to Budapest to mark his 40th birthday. Budapest is my favourite city. It is almost 20 years since I lived and studied there as a student, and 13 years since Chris orchestrated a surprise visit featuring an engagement ring. (There is something to be said for a man who will choose your favourite place for his big life events).
Chris being Chris, we stayed in a cool Air BnB, had thermal baths, and he ran a marathon. Me being me, we looked at the river, took yellow trams, had cherry strudel from a metro bakery stall and met up with old friends. There is something to be said for how we are shaped by the favourite things of the people we love and do life with, for marrying marathons and cherry strudel, for the daily and long haul ways we influence one another. There is something to be said for combining together, not curating alone.
I had a recurring dream before this trip in which I was in Budapest, but it didn’t feel like Budapest. In the dream I could not get to the river and ALL I wanted was to get to the river. The success of our trip, therefore, was going to be measured by one person’s target for running 26.2 miles, and one person seeing the river.
I sometimes wish everyone could be satisfied by small things. I am approaching 40 myself and (unless we’re playing cards) I am not competitive – against others or myself. I am a curious spectator when it comes to this running life. I’m impressed, I’m bewildered. I want to cheer, I want to suggest rest.
On the day of the marathon I found a spot by the Szabadsag bridge, where I could see the river and cheer on my man. Spectating does not get any better than this. I soaked in the atmosphere and I watched the diverse faces and bodies and emotions passing me by. I immersed myself in stories and dramas, imagined or real. Stories of perseverance and pain and stamina and solidarity. I thought of the pride or the disappointment people would feel later. I felt conflicted.
Our first morning in Budapest we walked out of our apartment and I felt satisfied. Here we were on an ordinary street in this beautiful, beloved city. It felt so far from home and it felt like home. It stirred memories and feelings. I marvelled at the time I had lived here so long ago. I contacted my old uni friends so we could reminisce. I felt grateful for the time then and the time now.
I am approaching 40 and I am nostalgic by default. I love those yellow trams and cherry strudel all the more because I loved them before. On the Szabadsag bridge, though, I think about what it means to love a place and why. We indulged our immaturity at 19, but everything feels more conflicted at 39.
On the Szabadsag bridge I feel conflicted about running and travelling, about community and place, about participating v spectating.
Pinned to the back of Chris’s t-shirt were the words ‘Elso Maratonom’ – First Marathon. Towards the end when he started to struggle, he got a pat on the back and some Hungarian encouragement which he understood, even though he didn’t.
So here’s to the places and the people who widen our horizons, change our experiences, adopt our interests and introduce us to their own. Let us pat backs, celebrate milestones and suggest rest. And may you be encouraged – to cross a finish line, or to stand on a city street and be satisfied.