Our theme for the month of March is “cities.”
You send me pictures of London.
Of the view from the train station where you get off for work; of the famous building that I had never heard of and didn’t believe was one of the tallest in the city; of some ancient churches that are commonplace to a city hundreds of years old; of a busker in the street, stationed near an intersection teeming with people; of graffiti art as you walk home from a night of trivia.
I know of London how everyone knows of London: that it is always rainy and that it is old. I picture Dickens-era people wearing top hats and petticoats, holding umbrellas as they walk over cobblestone streets. I know of London, the home of Shakespeare and Buckingham Palace, where people drink tea like their lives depend on it and speak in lilting accents. I know of London, the place where my mother went to visit friends and watch many theater performances, reveling in the freedom of her twenties.
I do not know London.
And yet, I feel some sort of kinship with it: it greets you every morning, it holds your thoughts, it welcomes you back after the difficult days, it feels your love. It is teaching me how to admire a place you’ve never been, a person you’ve never met.
I feel some jealousy mingling in as well: it is right at your fingertips, you walk on the streets, it reaches out to touch you and you reach out to touch it, it knows you. You see the city everyday. You have never seen me.
We made our home in a city of Wi-Fi signals and online aliases, built with two-hour-long phone calls and messages sent over miles and five hour time differences. You reached your hand out of the ocean of people, standing stock-still in the middle of an intersection while the masses swarmed around you, and I took it.
I’m not sure I’ll ever see London. I am married to my job, and I unfortunately holed up in my home while everyone else was out there, getting infected with the travel bug. Time off fills up quickly with side jobs and family and friends and my required quota of lounging around my apartment. I have a million excuses for not ever planning trips.
The only other city I have loved, apart from the ones I have lived in, was Florence. I dwelt there for three weeks, slowly savoring Dante Alighieri’s words and the dozens of gelato shops within walking distance. I learned the side streets and navigated semi-successfully, a feat for my directionally challenged self, keeping the Duomo as my north star to guide me home. There was a weekend spent in Assisi, a last hurrah in Rome, but I do not remember them as I remember the Ponte Vecchio bustling with customers and the steps up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, unveiling a view of the city I had started, against all odds and a language barrier, to know. It was a gift, I know now, to have the time to wander and to learn a city that I must leave behind.
I may never know London, but you have opened it up for me regardless, crappy phone camera quality be damned. You’ve flaunted all internet common sense and shown me the wonders and the small delights of the city you love.
I find myself taking quick pictures now, snapshots of moments I would have let pass uncaptured two months ago. You do not know my city, as I am wont to practice what I preach in internet safety, but I send these images to you anyways, reaching out my hand back to you.
Alex Johnson (‘19) is a virtual computer science teacher and a proud resident of Grand Rapids. When she’s not brainstorming the newest project to inflict on her students, she’s cooking semi-vegetarian food, reading too many romance books, and playing rhythm games.