It’s been a lovely weekend in Harrogate, England! The UCI World Cycling Championship is being held here, and has brought throngs of people and loads of excitement to our normally quiet and serene little spa town. All the shop windows are decorated and there is a great white ferris wheel spinning families up and back down again and food trucks serving pork sandwiches and our very own special brand of Slingsby’s Gin (always get the rhubarb) and Fever Tree tonic (always get the elderflower) and there is a storybookishness about it that calls to mind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Night at the Fair” or maybe a scene from a movie that might borrow from somewhere in middle America, circa 1955. In a word … quaint.
On Friday, the day before the official races began, I walked into town with my notebook and a fountain pen, ordered a plate of arancini and a bottle of sparkling water, then I worked a bit on a novel and eavesdropped a bit on strangers’ conversations, and enjoyed the rare September sunshine with a profound sense of appreciation for it. Sunshine soaked English September afternoons are among those really great things that don’t last long enough–like butterflies, good naps or rainbows or the flavor in Juicy Fruit gum. And that was what that afternoon felt like. Rare and special and bespoke.
I’m not much of a cycling enthusiast, myself. It all seems quite scary if I’m being honest–the way they ride in such tightly woven crowds and move so quickly on thin wheels in aerodynamic streaks of color. I cringe at the thought of one single person hitting a bump or patch of gravel and then all of them ending in a tangle of spokes and legs and lots of upside down pieces with wheels spinning freely in the air. It seems quite the opportunity for lots of brokenness: human and mechanical alike. But fan fair and spectacles are attractive to me regardless of whether the reason for them appeal to my specific interests. I suppose it’s because, as a writer, humans, in general, are of interest to me and so I’ve always been comfortable in the spectator seat.
And on Friday, from my outdoor seat at the table, at my favorite pub, The Fat Badger, with my little balls of rice and my cold glass of sparkling water glittering in the magic of rare sunlight, I spectated as spectators do at spectacles and I saw her. A sweet lady riding her very professional looking bicycle, in her very professional looking helmet wearing very professional looking and serious bicycle clothes, and a smile.
I have never ridden a bike like that or worn a helmet quite like that or clothes like that, with pads that protect my bum like that or shoes that lock into peddles like that … but I have worn a smile like that and was wearing one that day, in fact, and perhaps that is why I recognized it. Like when you see someone else wearing a dress you have and yet you know you can only get that particular dress at a particular boutique on a particular street in Paris.
She was riding slowly, and in the center of the street–which is easy to do at the moment because all the town streets have been blocked for the week–and she was taking her time taking it in, scanning the buildings up and down and the pretty shop windows inside and out and all the many balloon formations and flags and welcoming signs and displays made out of vintage bicycles, and she was wearing the “this is my dream” smile.
It is very important to stop here and make a few clarifications. Because firstly, it was not the “that is my dream” or “my dream is” or “I have a dream” or “if I win this it will be a dream come true” smile. Each of those are smiles of their own. And they’re all usually underpinned by something unsure because they are the dreams of things that haven’t come true just yet. It’s the smile I have when I dream of having a best selling novel one day. And I think maybe that’s why I noticed her. She was very clearly satisfied already with how far she’d come. Riding her bicycle all alone on a street blocked off for a race she had yet to ride, scanning the buildings and the balloons and the great pops of color splashed all about this lovely Victorian spa town in Northern England in honor of an event for which she’d qualified, had already checked the dream box for her and I could tell.
Because it’s the smile I have when I’m sitting at an outdoor table in my favorite pub in Harrogate England, soaking up the special gift of September afternoon sunshine working on my novel that hasn’t been published.
And suddenly I wondered if that was something people could understand. That sometimes the dream comes true before or in spite of the prize. Sometimes the dream is just the act of doing, participating and being a part of something. Sometimes the dream is just your solo afternoon in town, looking around at all the exciting things and putting the memories in your pocket.
I hope so. I hope people don’t miss that part. It’s easy to, sometimes. To focus on what hasn’t happened yet. Or what could happen. Or what might not happen at all. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the anxiety of all that lies in store or not … but it doesn’t have to be that way.
This past Friday afternoon, two women from two different parts of the world found themselves on the same street, living two entirely different dreams come true, and smiling the same “this is my dream” smile, despite the fact they were still in the act of trying and working for more.
I think that exists for everyone if we’re willing to explore what it means for us. I think more often than we realize, we come face to face with our dreams and great big ambitions, and because we don’t recognize them for what they are, we move so quickly passed those moments we fail to savor or appreciate or even remember them.
Maybe there’s a lesson there for us all, in that. To slow down. To be more aware of who we are and where and what we’re doing and what it means for us. Our souls. Not where we’re trying to be in the ultimate sense, but where we are on the journey. After all, the ultimate will last for a few seconds, anyway, but to find your smile on the journey to or from there will grant you the gift of “this is my dream” for however long you choose to stay the course.
I try to dial into that frequently and will try to dial into it even more. To be even more united and enamored with the romance and act of making my dream come true and less tormented by the idea that it hasn’t come true just yet simply because it hasn’t come to fruition and I haven’t held the final product in my hands. In fact, I think it’s a key factor to a life well and happily lived. After all, if you can’t find your greatest happiness in the act of making a dream true, then what was it about the dream that made it yours in the first place?