More To See, More To-Do

A few years back, I flew from Boston to London and had a day of sightseeing before my conference started. My plane landed at 8:00 in the morning and I headed straight for the Thames, near the London Eye.

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The day was perfect. I couldn’t have ordered nicer weather; blue skies and white clouds, it was jeans and T-shirt warm.

I was standing on the pedestrian way of the South Bank, just off Westminster bridge, with Big Ben behind my left side, and the London Eye straight ahead. A pigeon landed on the pavement in front of me.

The sounds were intense: people talking in assorted languages; traffic humming, horns yelping; and boats docking. The sidewalk around me was controlled chaos.

There were people from every walk of life, from every intersection of the world, a jacked-up kaleidoscope of colors and a rock-ish symphony of sounds.

Near me was a woman in a bright pink sari with a gold chain running from her ear to her nose. She was laughing with her friends who were dressed in equally vibrant green and turquoise outfits. A businessman, in his masterly tailored gray suit and shoes polished to reflection, was walking more urgently than everyone else. A tourist family in sneakers and jeans already had their arms loaded with souvenir knick knacks and ephemera.

I was in awe of the boundless variety of people, each one totally unique. Not only in their looks, their dress, and their speech — but on the inside too. There were thousands of us there, but we were each having our own experience of being there. The child with the twisted flower balloon was not having the same experience as the businessman, or even the same experience as her sibling in the stroller.

I could have stopped any person and asked them what they were noticing, or thinking about, and it would be quite different from the person beside them. They might not be noticing the scent of the fresh French fries, or the single white cloud in the sky; they might not be noticing the little pile of sunflower husks left by the birds.

How fortunate I felt to be there. To witness the menagerie. A million human gems roaming through the streets and sidewalks.

I realized it had been at least 24-hours since I’d seen a familiar face, and yet I was here by the efforts of countless strangers. There were the people who started the car company, and then those who actually built the car, and the driver who purchased it and picked me up at my house to deliver me to the airport.

There were all the people at the airport to make sure everything was running smoothly; from the janitor to the pilot, each playing a role. What about the Wright brothers?! My day was made possible by all those who came before me.

I might have paid for the privilege, but if not for the creative genius and power of the collective, getting from my house to downtown London would have been extraordinarily challenging. Just ask the Vikings!

And then there were the buildings; The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, re-built in the mid-1800s juxtaposed the London Eye, a recent marvel added to the city in 2000, both legacies of those who dreamt of them and icons for this international hub.

I felt at once so small, and insignificant, yet also so connected and part of something. I felt so anonymous and at the same time cared for and known. I felt so lighthearted and also grounded. I felt like anything was possible!

A second pigeon landed near my foot and brought me back to my sightseeing mission: More to see, more to-do… Just another city, just another day.

Or was it?