This afternoon, I took a long walk along my usual jogging route. The route runs along a stream and through the patches of farmland that hide a mere ten minutes away from the main road and my flat. It is a surprisingly large and tranquil place, and is simultaneously overlooked by the Taunus mountains and the Frankfurt skyline – a spot of cosy contradiction. I hadn’t visited since September, which essentially means since the 5km run I was jogging in preparation for.
The landscape was a lot more green, less brown than I had expected it to look in the winter. But despite the 2-degree temperature and sun-warmed footpaths slick with rainwater, the ponds were still frozen – bright white anomalies amidst the muted tones, trapping twigs and leaves on their surfaces. And lots of people were still running, which put me to shame a little for allowing the weather to be an excuse for giving up on my newly-acquired determination to exercise more, which had been going so well by my usual standards.
But a slow walk can be much more absorbing. You are acutely aware of the people around you, more so than when you run. Your mind is a lot less preoccupied, and you really see faces rather than a succession of figures. Enough time lapses between each passerby such that you can anticipate the possibility of making eye contact. It happened multiple times today, of course – a flicker of the eyes sideways to see if the person coming in the opposite direction was doing the same, if so, should I hold the eye contact, and if so, should I smile, or dare I even think it – say “Hallo”. This is always a slightly awkward process because sometimes a smile is returned with a blank stare; and I realise I was happiest after I found a spot on a bench by one of the ponds, where I had a view of the snow-capped Taunus and was completely alone.
This is one of the things I assumed I would grow out of as I got older. Yet here I am, with a reasonable amount of years in age and experience, still occasionally feeling like an awkward child, cringing at the feeling of rejection from an unreciprocated smile. I suppose the trouble with constantly thinking about who or what or how you want to be is that you keep on building on that prototype in your head, and you grow convinced that at some point you would achieve a “stable state” of sorts where you have it all figured out, you’re confident and comfortable and no social situation in daily life would seem insurmountable to you, ever.
Life however doesn’t seem to work like that…it’s bumpy and unpredictable. Sometimes you’re your best self, sometimes you wake up with a throbbing neck ache, the coffee doesn’t taste right and you fail miserably at small talk on an 8.30am work call. Sometimes people smile back and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you spend years with someone you realise wasn’t right for you, and sometimes you find a kindred spirit but time is short. And that’s okay. Because it has to be.