Together again

September 10, 2022

Earlier this week I spent a few late summer days in Budapest. The sun offered September warmth that meant the shady side of the street was not quite warm enough, but the sunny side was a little too much. The Danube looked still and peaceful, as if composing itself to be photographed, and the historic Parliament building played with light and shadow, looking every inch the carved marble edifice in a fantasy blockbuster film.

I was in Budapest to work with a client to discuss and encourage thoughts about their roles as future facing lawyers for a global institution. I have not been overseas since February 2020 and a lot has changed in the world since then. I left the UK feeling a little lost and out of my depth; anxious about navigating an airport as if it were my first time, and anxious about speaking to a group of clever young people, wondering if the words I might say would make any sense to anyone anymore. I also wanted to phone my mum to tell her that I was ok, so that she could tell me that I really was ok.

The client was delightful. Every single colleague greeting their friends, old and new, with warmth and appreciation and making me feel welcome and involved as well. The days flew by, and as I flew home, I knew something important had happened for me about feelings of loss.

Loss of anything that matters, whether a parent, or the connection with our place in the world, or our sense of role and contribution, even the loss of a much-loved Monarch, is not easily explained, rationalised or coped with. What is seemingly existential is felt viscerally and personally. The enormity of loss becoming jagged edges of pain and of aching relentless unease. We cannot intellectualise loss; but we can certainly feel it.

Before I spoke to the group, I had walked along some of Budapest’s attractive, but careworn streets, evocative of quiet corners of Paris. As I walked it was hard not to have a somewhat surreal internal dialogue with myself about “what on earth am I doing here?” This felt different from my more familiar imposter syndrome, and felt more like a quiet contemplative befuddlement of purpose and role and direction.

Back in the meeting room it was my turn to speak; my turn to try and engage the attention of lawyers who had centuries of experience between them. I spoke of feelings, of noticing, leading, changing and of caring. And I spoke of kindness, of loss and of finding peace in the stability of the foundations that we can build with each other and for each other. I don’t think I could have said my words in an online world. I could only have said them in a room where eyes widened with resonance and our shared vulnerability could be felt and not just described.

We have lost so much in so many ways, but when we are together again, properly together, we become more than our worries and so much more than our fears. We can also more easily gather around us the hope that we need for our futures.

May our troubles today and the loss we feel today, encourage us to find solace in the company of friends, family and colleagues; and may we also find hope in the warmth of what we can share with each other and build for tomorrow. May our purpose be to spend time together.

Take care. Paul xx

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