For many people, significant memories are knotted tightly around culture’s rites of passage. Friday the ninth of November 2007 may stick in your memory for sixty years, if a loved one dies on this day. The Summer of 1987 may strike a chord as you picture the first wedding you ever went to, complete with roses, doves and an incomprehensible amount of flawlessly sweet cake. You’ll always be grateful you turned down that trip to Prague last May, as it meant you got to be there for the birth of your best friend’s baby. Even now, you can picture every crease on her face as she looked at the kid for the first time.
For me, memory isn’t this straight-forward. Memory is something you have to process with an awareness of who you are today, how far you’ve come, and how much further you have yet to go. It is for this reason, that one of the most powerful moments spent in my city happened on a dreary interchangeable Monday morning (or was it a Tuesday?) as I was running late to my lecture in Early Twentieth Century Poetry.
On this particular day, Wales’ tourist board were quivering in their muddy boots as our Cardiff skies reminded us what they were famed for. Discarded umbrellas littered the streets and paving slaps functioned as see-saws, projecting an insultingly pathetic geyser of icy-cold water onto the walker. I was wearing inappropriate shoes which had caved in at the heel, reminding me constantly about my need to purchase wellies and I’d walked past eight different kebab shops, whose sticky scent scolded me for my failure to eat breakfast. In my hand was a mobile phone, making its fourth call to my best friend and fellow English Literature student. ‘Hi this is Nat. I’m sorry….’. I hung up again, bitterly cursing her to a morning ignorant of her alarm clock and an afternoon full of the inevitable stresses this would bring. Somewhat surprised at my sudden social venom, I flung my mobile into my bag and waited, impatiently, for the green man.
Such banality continued as I crossed the street, passed the bank and headed up Crwys Road. I double-checked I’d packed my copy of The Poetry of Edward Thomas and briefly glanced at my mobile again, just in case Nat had seen sense in her alarm clock and decided to face the day. Then, with a fiery reluctance, I scanned the street around me. A cyclist (without helmet) peddled past, a seagull pecked shamelessly at last night’s takeaway wrappers and three young men walked in a trio, unknowingly forcing me to change my pace.
Past the slouching block of apartments, the road led me over the railway tracks. As a train rolled confidently below me heading from the grey hills beyond Lisvane and Thornhill to the uneven row of teeth which is the Cardiff city skyline, I suddenly felt deeply at one with my city. Cardiff is a unique place which encompasses the rural and the urban, and here I was at a crossroads which could let me be whoever I wanted to be. The hills were emotional, reminding me of how far our relationship had come and how different things could have been.
To the left, was the city. Crisp in its filth, it stood for hazy nights out, new friends and a career waiting in incubation. Like the individual rises of the hills, the buildings here were impersonal. There were apartments I’d never lived in, factories I’d never visited and offices that had not even received an email from me. Yet, a sharp digital graph functioning in fierce juxtaposition to the gentle analog waves of the countryside, the buildings collectively plotted an ode to the city I loved.
For me, it is rare to get this sense of unity with a place. For a few intense seconds I was powerfully aware of how the city owned me, and I felt embraced by this idea of belonging. As memory and aspiration collided with a celebration of now, I felt truly content and sure of myself. Life is an enigma, but not one we need to worry about cracking. Rather, we should relish the fleeting moments where the world seems to make sense. Of course, this feeling didn’t last long; my phone was ringing and I was late for a lecture.