Life can be pleasant on the other side of the street

I've often said that in another life, I'd be a sociologist. I'm fascinated by how people live behind their front doors.

Years ago, a young me would jog in the city and look into people's apartment windows as I went by. Ultimately, it was this behavior that led me to, well, fall down. Repeatedly.

I was so busy pondering the lives of the people whose windows I passed that I didn't pay attention to the cracks in the sidewalks, or the curbs, or my feet. And so down I'd go. Luckily, I never hurt anything but my pride with these tumbles, so I'd brush myself off and Peeping Kelly would continue onward.

This by means of revealing that I just did it again in London. Only this time I wasn't looking into windows, I was just looking. At everything and everyone. I've read about the thrum of London, the beauty and interplay of old with new, the history, but I'd never been there before. And so as I was walking to meet my daughter, my head just about spun on its axis, trying to see all that I could before reaching my destination.

As well as being nosy and clumsy, I am also directionally impaired. Combine my aforementioned foot/eye incoordination with an embarrassing reliance on GPS, and you have the perfect scenario for a rather routine-for-me tumble on the sidewalk just outside of my hotel's immediate blocks.

After my fall, whenever I set out on subsequent walks from my hotel, I determined to pay particular attention to the sidewalk and the buildings around me, so as to: 1. Not fall again, and 2. Not get lost. Luckily, the route I chose was lovely, as was the surrounding architecture (and, too, the kind Brits who helped me after I slid into their path), so I never bored of my tried-and- true starting route from my hotel.

By the end of my trip, I was proud of myself for finding my way. I had taken the Tube successfully a number of times and walked miles through dozens of famous squares and historical sites. Always to return to my one known way into and out of my hotel's neighborhood.

Emerging from the Tube on my last day, though, I felt discombobulated. I checked with Siri, who confirmed I was in the correct place and headed in the right direction. I passed buildings that seemed familiar but were a bit different, monuments whose angles seemed a bit off, plazas with shade in areas I remembered as sunny. Fascinating deja vu. I kept walking and looking, enjoying the slightly different sameness.

My route was the same, you see, but the sidewalk was different. I was literally on my street, in my happy/safe zone, but on the other side. I hadn't chosen to be across the street. The Tube exit just deposited me there. And though the sites were the same, the view was different.

This is kind of how life is, isn't it? You can be comfortable with a certain sameness: for example, stable health, family, friends. Then something unexpected occurs and you find yourself on a different version of your charted path. You are on the other side of your street. Life just deposited you there. It is indeed discombobulating.

But in the end, the other side is still the same street, right? The details may seem a bit different, but the important constants are there: health, family, friends. The sidewalks on both sides may be cracked and uneven, but the view can still be beautiful, and the path can still be your own.

- Kelly Abate of Hinsdale is a former contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].