December 2019


I zip my jacket up to my neck and wrap my fingers around my coffee cup, letting out another deep sigh. The midday air of late December has me shivering, but it eases the ache in my head and chest. I take a bite of beans on toast and watch a middle-aged couple across the street as they carry their Christmas tree out their front door and around the corner — presumably to some designated disposal area. He walks faster than her legs can move, and an argument unfolds while they walk.

As I watch, I imagine behind every newsfeed of smiling Christmas photos, of families and couples, there are countless moments like these. Secret dysfunctions and repressed resentments. Whispers in the kitchen. Recycled arguments about unaddressed issues.

How many of them just spent their last Christmas together, and don’t even know it yet? So much can happen in a year.

Another couple, in their twenties, hold hands as they walk up the street from Kensington Gardens. A sudden gust sends an empty beer can rolling up the street next to them, and the man kicks it up onto the top of his foot and into the air. The woman smiles and without missing a beat, drops his hand and runs forward, catching the can with the inside of her foot and kicking it back and forth between each foot before kicking it in a tall arc back to him. 

They pass back and forth like this a dozen times, laughing and giggling before she misses and stumbles forward into his arms, where they hug and pant and laugh some more.

I smile as I watch them continue down the street. I notice myself projecting a certain metaphor onto it all. Two couples with such different interactions. Supposing my attitude will change based on where I point my attention, I have the choice here in front of me. How different will my conclusions be, if I dwell on one but not the other? 

Choosing the first, I may accept that happy relationships and holiday cheer are just the glamorized mask over a complicated reality. The acceptance may avoid naiveté, but it risks cynicism too.

Choosing the second, I may accept that perhaps the mask is the same as the reality. Sometimes people are just happy. Sometimes we find the right person, and the rest is natural and easy. But what if this is not the case, and I’m always left wondering whether things are as good as they could be?

As I finish my coffee and head for the Tube, I suppose to consider the choice itself is enough for today.