“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.”
Behind me I could hear the girl screaming, her cries bouncing off the walls of the narrow streets. The man was a few metres ahead of me, both of us running flat out, and it seemed as if I would never catch up to him. But then he suddenly stopped and turned. He stared at me and slowly bent down, gently placing the phone on the ground, never losing eye contact. In that moment it felt as if someone had hit the pause button. I saw him. And then he ran off.
I didn’t see a robber. I didn’t see a wrongdoer. I saw him. I felt this overwhelming feeling of connection. He didn’t have to gently place the phone on the ground, he could have flung it down or continued running, I don’t know if I could have caught up to him. But in that moment the so-called ‘wrongdoer’ did something entirely unexpected and it was in that moment that we connected.
I had been walking back home in Barcelona and it was about 10:30pm. I had passed a girl dressed up for a night out, something which stood out in a city then largely in lockdown, with no bars or cafes open to dress up for. A few seconds later she had begun screaming ‘ladrón’ (thief) and a man hurtled past me. I gave chase, and as we were close to my house I was able to easily navigate the familiar labyrinth of streets of the old town. And no, I wasn’t being brave. Bravery is overcoming fear and yet I had no fear. I just wanted to get the girl’s phone back to her and was hell bent on doing so.
The girl, whom I subsequently located in the streets from her screaming, was overcome with joy and relief at getting her phone back, these emotions translating into huge sobs and an inability to breathe properly, her body wracked with every emotion. Another, older lady who had heard the commotion came down to help console her, and a takeaway place gave the girl water. All thoughts of Covid went out of the window as she clung onto me in her emotional state. I too felt quite emotional about it all and felt remarkably connected to two strangers whom I will never meet again and yet with whom I connected in the most profound of ways.
In 2020 we have been both the most and least connected in recent memory. Where once people fretted about the online world making us more remote, 2020 took this to new levels. We totally lost physical touch and physical connection.
But we have also grown in connection to our world and our planet, and in understanding the fragility of life. We have ‘seen’ the homeless we used to walk past, we have ‘seen’ our neighbours and we have ‘seen’ the world through an entirely different lens. With death all around us, whether it was the death of our former way of life or literal death, life has taken on greater meaning.
When my father died when I was 20, I always said that the most important gift he left behind was the gift of life and the urgency and importance in living it. Living it abundantly and wholeheartedly as he himself had done. Merely existing was not an option. This year the world was ‘woken up’ in the same way only the death of someone close to you, or perhaps a near death experience, can sometimes ‘wake you up’. We were taught to be grateful. Taught to appreciate all that we have had. To recognise the abundance. Everyone speaks excitedly about a return to travel, a return to being able to touch one another, a return to socialising and parties. Were we not to have had this pause for reflection, would we have appreciated and valued such things, with our 2019 mind-set?
I have always preferred to travel without guidebooks. I like to travel freely, to create my own footsteps with no expectation of anything, just a curiosity to see what lies behind the next corner. It is a reflection of how I live.
2020 was a year when I went on a different journey, once again with no book to guide me. This before and after can’t be captured in an Instagram post. And yet this has been the very best trip I have taken. It’s revealed a different way of being and living. I therefore look forward to 2021, but will always be truly grateful to 2020 for teaching me to slow down, look and really see, and for teaching me to connect with the world, in its entirety, in a totally different way.