I’m back from the U.S. and settling into the old routine here. Yesterday I was hustling through the train station to buy groceries and as usual was jostled elbow to elbow in a sea of folks making their way through the crowded banhof. And then just as I stepped down off the escalator my eyes fixed on two people in the middle of the terminal underneath the Arrivals/Departures clock.
They were locked in a full body embrace and as I waited they stayed that way, with arms laced behind each others backs and their chins touching. They were completely silent and didn’t move a muscle. All the while people around them flew past and pushed and shouted and rolled luggage at their feet and they just stood still, smiling into each other’s eyes, frozen in the moment.
And I hovered beside the escalator pretending to look at my shopping list as one minute went by and then another. And then people around me started to stare too – was it a stunt? Performance art? Some kind of video prank?
And then a full five minutes passed. Small groups of travelers stopped and tried not to notice but ended up staring too. People exchanged glances, growing uncomfortable.
There was an older woman sitting at a cafe table beside me and she’d been watching too, she wore a bemused look but seemed unfazed, as if this happened all the time.
And what exactly was it? Just an unusually long, drawn-out private moment, an intense emotional embrace, savored and set apart by its sheer obliviousness to social space and time.
They were twenty-somethings but with none of the self-consciousness I associate with that age. The girl had a ratty blonde braid wriggling down her back and wore zip-off hiking pants, the guy had a dark ponytail and dirty Tevas on his long feet.
And I wondered if they were coming or going, whether he was meeting her train or if she was meeting his. Had they been apart for a long time or were they just now saying goodbye?
I imagined the station as seen from above, like a huge physics experiment, where particles swam to and fro, bouncing and colliding with one another, bits of matter moving randomly, yet curiously aware of their relationship to the others inside the cramped space. Each keeping distance by staying in continuous motion.
The social rule is that bodies must hustle and transport themselves but never linger or look as if they are rooted especially in a transient environment. It is understood that public spaces shouldn’t really be shared for long, they should only be way-stations, portals to the next place.
Not platforms for displaying extended emotion – sure a swift kiss, an embrace, even tears, but not for dramatically long, slow, juicy gestures that linger. Nothing too earthy, too real or so emphatic that they exert a gravitational pull.
After a while people moved on and I exchanged another glance with the Swiss woman but she was back to reading her paper.
And even though the little interlude was cliche, to me it was also high drama of the best kind: timeless yet original, ordinary but bold. Simply forgetting the clock and squeezing the most out of the moment.
Since I’ve been back from North Carolina and our daughter’s wedding, it’s like my body’s a Tibetan bowl humming from the emotion of the week. This extroverted city of Bern reverberates inside the hollows of my heart and through my soul. Enough to make me a tiny bit lightheaded, and so I crouch and sit down on the bench by the Swatch watch kiosk and let time and space and memory roil through me.
I close my eyes and remember my husband’s hand in a strong lock-hold with mine as we walked with our daughter down the aisle at the arboretum. Countless other walks with other purpose and emotion had brought us to that moment, the fullness of so many others, the short bursts and the long-held. Who can count the moments it takes to love your child into adulthood?
And as I sat down in the pew, I immediately felt the fierce grip of my brother’s hand taking mine. I hadn’t seen him for awhile but his thick mitt was so familiar, so reassuringly dependable, so like my own, and I remembered that he was always the last one to let go.
And at the recessional, I grabbed my father in a bear hug and he cried like I haven’t seen him cry since my mom died. But this time he was heavy against my shoulder and I felt the damp sweat on the back of his thin seersucker jacket, and I didn’t want to let him go. Oblivious to time and space, it was an involuntary reaction – how many times had I hugged him in his heavy cloth vestments through the years?
And later that night on the dance floor at the reception, my hand rests lightly on my niece’s slim waist and we are dancing to Coldplay. She is eighteen and this is the summer before she leaves for college. And I look into her soft brown almond eyes, so exotic, so unlike my own, and we dance, gazing at one another, simply feeling the song:
And high up above or down below
When you’re too in love to let it go
But if you never try you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth
And it’s so clear that I am the one who is awkward and insecure in the spotlight, embarassed to be exposed as graceless, unhip or just weird. She is so young and yet so comfortable in her own skin.
We don’t laugh or speak at all – me bumbling and she gracefully swaying. And she keeps on dancing like she really wants to be there with me until the song ends and even then it is me who looks away first.
And I see her still.
She is shining in all the corners of this foreign place, in the beautiful young Swiss faces I pass by every day and glaze over in my protective shyness. And I remember her strong, tanned arms pulling me through space with confidence and ease.
And I think about each of those brief moments from North Carolina and they are like magnets that hold me in place. I hug my arms around my sides and let the memories ground me.
Maybe awkward and out of context here in the banhof but I don’t care, it’s my own little love story. And I’m holding on tight for as long and hard as I can – because I know by now what this moment is worth and it is everything.