Last week I went into Toronto for the first time since moving to Peterborough over a year ago. After over 20 years of living in the GTA, this was the longest I’ve gone without a city fix and I didn’t realize how much I needed it until I made plans to go.
Don’t get me wrong, I have thrown myself into this new community – heart first! It’s been a great place to live and the friends I’ve met in such a short time feel like souls who have been part of me throughout all my lives.
I have no doubt that my peeps across the 401 have watched me unfold and wondered who has stolen their non-conformist friend and replaced her with this love-drenched, socially active member of society. For most of my life, I was a self-declared ‘non-joiner’. I rolled my eyes at community involvement and group outings. I had a great clan of close friends and when we were together, it was non-stop fun. But everyone was busy with their own lives (myself included) and our outings would be sporadic. And to be honest, I liked being alone.
I grew up in small rural town of only 2700, where you couldn’t get away from community if you tried. And I did. I spent high school lusting to live in the city while secretly loving the small town life. Maybe too much. My mom was the local librarian and would find out everything I’d done that day before I’d even get home from school. Typically this would result in being banished to the basement of the old town library with a bag of pencil which I’d have to sharpen by hand with the wall-mounted sharpener. Where she ever found so many dull pencils, I’ll never know.
I think it’s my roots that have drawn me into the depths of Peterborough. It felt right to live somewhere that you will always meet up with someone you know, no matter where you go. And typically at least 5 more people who know someone you know.
But after months of weaving my own thread through this new town, meeting so many people and expanding my tribe, I started to feel a bit like that angst-filled teenager in Dresden. I needed a city fix before I ended up in the basement sharpening pencils.
I started to crave anonymity and being immersed in a city where I could be invisible. Oh how I’d missed that place where nobody knows your name.
I couldn’t wait to move, with purpose, through the crowds in head-down, eyes-forward angst. And for my mouth to be poised in a 1/2 scowl which is city-speak for ‘you stay outta my way and I’ll stay outta yours.’
I yearned to become swallowed by sounds that hold no ties to me: random conversations, street cars, sirens and horns. To be deafened by the noise around me, my mind could finally become a cocoon of focus. This is a meditation I can get from no other place.
And last week, I got that fix .. well .. sort of. But also something else that merged both worlds into one.
It started at the subway station.
I was about to walk into the Wilson station when approached by an older man asking, “Token? Do you have a token?” Before I could respond, a guy coming out of the subway told him that he could buy tokens inside from the machine. The man looked at me with sweet pleading eyes and of course I said
“Come on, let me show you how to do this.”
So he shuffled along beside me with a big smile repeating, “It’s okay. It’s alright.”
I showed him how to put his money into the machine and take the tokens that spilled out of the dispensary. I was about to get my own token when he gave me one of his and said in this thick accent,
“From Russia, with love.”
Next, I demonstrated how to put the token in (no, that’s a nickel) and push through the metal gate (push harder!). We were heading in the same direction so we found our way to the platform together. The whole time he spoke to me with such happiness. Over and over I heard, “I’m 81 years old. I don’t know how. I can’t believe I’m 81 years old. Where does the time go? It’s okay. It’s alright.”
He told me his name was Levi and that in Russian it meant ‘lion’ and in Hebrew it meant ‘heart’.
“So your name is Lionheart?”
He smiled and gave me some candy.
“From Russia, with love.”
We rode together most of the way. He got off the stop before me giving me more candy, a pat on my shoulder and murmurs of “It’s okay, It’s alright. From Russia, with love.”
So much for my scowl.
I called my brother when I made my way up to sidewalk to firm up our plans of meeting for pre-TIFF dinner. He had also just got off the subway and would you believe that we had been riding on the same train. He actually got off at the same stop as Levi, though he wasn’t lucky enough to get candies.
So much for anonymity.
Keeping my eyes forward, I meditated my way through Queen Street and into Kensington. Unable to resist the $10 rack outside a 2nd-hand (or rather 3rd or 4th hand) store, I grabbed a handful of clothes and lurked inside to embrace the cluttered dark space. I eventually landed in the change room and when I came out to inspect my choices in front of the only mirror, I head a voice from the front:
“Holy shit – that looks so good on you!”
Before I knew it, my city armour was displaced by a change room of treasures and I was in fits of giggles with the girl who was working. She kept tossing me new clothes to try on and we’d debate each item as we laughed and shared random stories. I left with a ridiculous amount of bags, a grin and eyes that were now wide open and awaiting my next encounter.
So much for angst.
The day continued with these unexpected meetings, including the girl who took my shoulder while waiting for the light to change and pointed at some chaos happening across the street.
“Yikes – let’s stay safe together over here!”
She walked with me to the next block and waved good-bye.
So much for staying out of each other’s way.
Later on, I met up with my brother and we had a great visit over dinner (mmmm… Salad King). Then we watched the film Those Who Make Revolution HalfWay Only Dig Their Own Graves which just further exemplified that even those who oppose everything about establishment still maintain their own sense of community.
On my late night/early morning drive home, I sucked on my candy from Russia and contemplated my day.
As much as I had driven there this afternoon eager to detach myself from everyone, I have since realized that there is no escaping this big community called life. It’s always around us. There are good people and new friends around every corner and subway stop.
The thread I’ve been weaving in Peterborough has actually been with me since birth and I’m starting to see the beauty and feel the warmth of the massive quilt it’s been creating all along. And I know that because of this, I will always have comfort and love, no matter where I end up.
It’s okay. It’s alright.