It was a sunny, beautiful afternoon. I sat on a bench at a newly discovered playground in my neighborhood, drank coffee, and watched my son play while a family of five occupied a nearby table. Even though I was busy with my thoughts and book, I immediately noticed them. I looked up to find the most adorable seven years old celebrating her birthday. She was covered in pink from head to toe with a big princess-crown to complete her look. And she had a smile so contagious I couldn’t help but smile, too. I am still fascinated by that moment and all the hope and joy it carried. There was a palpable feeling of gratitude in her mother’s eyes and she was trying her best to capture it by taking as many photos as she could. Their light and laughter filled the playground and reminded me that the things that truly matter, often just simply smile at you.
I continued to read my book when a couple with child arrived.
“Could we sit next to you?”, he asked me. “Only if you don’t mind, of course,” he added. I looked up and noticed a couple a bit older than I. I didn’t give it a second thought and replied, “Of course. Sure.” After all, when we encounter kindness, the least we can do is embrace it. The man had a kind face with hazel eyes and spoke German with a Russian (?) accent. Besides him, was his wife/girlfriend, who wore a green dress and sandals. She didn’t speak at all but kept looking at me intently.
Spending time next to other humans on a park bench is always a revealing experience for me. It is usually just enough time to give me a glimpse of who they are especially going by how they treat each other and what they communicate. And in this case, all I was left with was warmth and a certain playfulness that took the edge off of life. I noticed this when they argued where they will eat dinner. At the playground or at home. And the second time, she pointed out that he actually never spends time with their daughter (who played with other kids and came over once to take a sip of her water bottle).
A little reminder just in case you don’t know or forgot: You don’t need to entertain your child(ren) 24/7; especially if other kids are around! Both times, he was visibly irritated and said something to her in Russian (?) which upset her. She sadly looked him in the eyes and something immediately changed in him. The tone and pitch of his voice grew kinder. He called her my love and I could see her melt.
All that anger, irritation, and fear of whatever gave way to something deeper and more permanent: love. And they both knew they would be fine with each other by their side. I listened and glanced at my book, but asked myself if “their music” will really go on forever? Because I had just seen the dance of love and life. They were in sync and had made it look effortless. But I think what it really meant was that they had already put in the work. This is what you do when you want love that lasts. You ground it with respect and work on it daily.
Shortly after, they got up, kissed, and left while holding hands.
My friend arrived at the playground shortly after. We enjoyed pastries and a bottle of cold white wine that is, in Austria, traditionally mixed with sparkling water (“G’spritzter”). We spoke about relationships and the topic came up that she believes people have a consumerist approach to relationships. I paused. What happens when we chase permanence, not perfection? It hit home. I know what it feels like when someone you loved abandons and cheats on you, but I paused, afraid my words would fail me. I know my truth. Many of us today chase perfection in our partners not because of a need to feel fulfilled but simply out of convenience. I observed that permanence is rare. Perhaps it is our growing intolerance or inability to grapple with each other’s flaws that prevent us from staying the course. And then this thought: why put in the effort at all when we can just start over again with someone new? Register with Tinder and enjoy a new partner every day? Is it worth staying and fix something that is broken, or start something new? You will figure it out for yourself I guess. This is just food for thought.
When my friend and her daughter left, my son and I walked home and I realized more of and about myself and the person I would like to share my journey with. In relationships, I usually broke down my boundaries and slowly expanded my reality to accommodate others. This was wrong. Over the years and with experience, my focus shifted, and a whole new dimension of kindness and beauty unraveled within me. These days, I possibly enjoy the best version of myself and it feels that everything is unattainable without sacrifice. I know myself and how to love and be with someone else.
We were almost home when my son asked if he could make pizza for us tonight. He was so excited and I saw his eyes sparkle. With him, I feel love. This is true love and true for my child, partner, or anybody in my family. Simple. Unadorned. Wholesome. Untiring. And when there is love in my heart there is nothing else to see nor miss. There are no misinterpretations. Only beauty and comfort to enjoy every single day in each other’s company.
So, we made pizza. And it was awesome.