This was my home. I get on that same bus and the road I used to take every day feels so familiar that I forget to pay attention to what is new. So much is still the same. The places where the bus veers sharply to the left or the right. The spots where the traffic is always heavy and we crawl for a mile or two and I have memorized the font and wording of every sign for those blocks. I swear there are even mile markers for where the bus driver must honk his horn. Some things about the space are so familiar that I feel rather than look to find my way across streets and up hills.
But this is not my home anymore and there is something new and unfamiliar as well. Some of the shops are different. The train where I spent hours of my life is in a period of indefinite reconstruction. Newer restaurants have replaced the old new restaurants. The roads seem fuller. The energy in the street feels different too. There is an anxious feeling pervading the streets I never noticed before. The former energetic optimism seems replaced by something a little more insidious.
I am different too and I wonder how much it is the space that has changed and how much it is me that has changed. Maybe it feels like there are more people in the street because I have been living in a city where no one is ever on the street. Maybe I never noticed the anxiety before because I also used to live in a constantly anxious state. Maybe the optimism feels replaced because some of my own former wide-eyed excitement for the future has given way to a more knowledgeable and less innocent outlook.
But just being here again is good. It is an old city. Some historians date its settlement as far back as the 7th century BC. It has seen so many upheavals and settlements. So many dynasties come and go. So many families grow up and die out. You can feel it in the air. The quiet certainty that comes with that many years of just being. If you stop to think about it, you quickly become aware of your smallness. Just a blip on a long timeline. A drop of water in a great ocean. An ocean that never feels far from this city built on not one but two peninsulas. The city feels settled in a way that people never do.
There is one building in this great city that my heart and mind return to often even when I am on the other side of the world. It is one of the oldest buildings I have ever stood in and it feels like hallowed ground from the first step inside its large ancient doors. Early visitors in the 6th and 7th centuries AD described it as visiting heaven because they had never seen an earthly sight like it. Kings have been coronated, princes named, and queens married here. Once upon a time, I even added my own little dot to the history of the space by accepting the proposal and ring of a young lover on bended knee in a quiet conclave with light streaming through glass like a blessing down on us.
When I am far away, I wander through the space like a ghost trying to remember and feel the grandeur of the space. Being there in the flesh, I take in the height and breadth of the ceiling and it still takes my breath away. I study each stone that make up the 1,200 year old mosaics again and again trying to absorb the time and the patience of the craftsman and wondering if he had any idea how long his art would endure. How his images would continue to inspire and move visitors into the 21st century. How one young woman would gain strength and peace by re-visiting them over and over again.
I want to feel anchored and tethered to this world but so often I feel like at any moment I could just float away. I feel too light and connected by too few strings. I want to feel solid and rooted. Is that a decision I make or is that something that will come with more age and experience? Or will I always feel like a visitor? Like a looker-on of history and permanence?