From the first morning there, I knew. More than love at first sight, based not on superficiality or chemical reactions or coincidental timing, it was a place that the human psyche knows without knowing – the manifestation of your best dreams, things you never knew you never knew; things you always wanted. And here they are, in a place. And you’re there too.
There are a handful of moments in Istanbul that will forever define my perception – or, more specifically, serve to transcribe the experience into words.
One of those happened on the ferry from the Prince’s Islands to the Asian side.
J and I were riding side by side. We’d been lucky enough to get a seat on an increasingly-crowded ferry, and after a long day of bicycling up and down the gentle hills of car-less island roads, alongside the horse drawn carriages and underneath the trees that hung low in the humidity, we were quiet together, lulled by our exhaustion, our buzz, and the sound, the sensation of the boat.
I was people watching.
(The people in Turkey are some of the most watch-worthy.)
Near us, another couple was sitting. He had his arm around her; two adolescents who were suspended, for the moment, somewhere timeless in their own lives. He was utterly invested in her; he leaned in as he spoke to her, politely, his head against hers. I eyed them as one does a mirror – I felt that the four of us were riding together, and I felt their affection as our own.
Two old men got on and made their way to the area where the four of us were sitting.
The first one sat between us two couples, scooting toward J and I to leave space for his companion to do the same.
The second man, moving hesitantly, bracing against his cane between steps, reached the bench and began turning to sit down.
And then came the moment when my whole world – my entire perception of the human spirit – changed forever.
The boy, who just moments before was so completely absorbed by his existence and that of his companion, suddenly glanced up at the man next to him and, reacting by instinct rather than analysis, stood quickly and, with obvious care, took the man by his shoulders, one in each hand, and helped him sit down on the bench.
The man, once seated, thanked the boy.
And the boy, it was plain to see, nodded back with the utmost genuine expression.
It read such sincere compassion for his fellow human that, had I been his mother, I would’ve cried over what a beautiful person I’d manage to raise.
My heart absolutely melted that day. For a moment, it turned to liquid inside my chest and hung heavy between my ribs, pulling on the base of my throat. And then it gradually re-assembled itself into its shape.