Last year, I went on a holiday around the Mediterranean. One of my favourite spots was Dubrovnik, which is a coastal city in Croatia. Dubrovnik boasts one of the most beautiful and captivating Old Towns in the world. This town is surrounded by ancient white limestone walls, complete with an intricate and complex system of forts and towers.
From here, you can see the slanted, paved, orange roofs that line that city. Ancient monasteries, beautiful palaces, and bell towers sprout up amongst the city’s sunburnt garden bed.
But amazingly, when I look back on that trip and think about everything that captivated me in Dubrovnik, it is not the beautiful scenery, or the sparkling waves crashing against the cliffs, or even the absolute generosity and kindness of the locals that I think of first. It is these scratches upon the stone Old Town Walls that always come to mind.
Yes, it is defamatory and graffiti, and absolutely wrong to deface this ancient monument. But at the same time, I can’t help but see how beautiful it is. In the middle of all these scratched names, there is a love heart, spreading its wings amongst the wall’s scars. These are not scratches of hurt or violence, but scratches of excitement, love, and joy – people so happy to be there that they left their mark. And I can’t help but wonder whether the person who scratched this heart in the mess of names knows that it is still there now, and that someone from possibly the complete opposite side of the globe found your scars and thought they were beautiful.
Today, when I look upon the past of Dubrovnik, I do not only see cracked stone and mortar, but I see care; every stone was layered with purpose and consideration. I see a white stone fortress, the Pearl of the Adriatic, that has been loved by the sea foam. I see a defensive wall, maintained and built by its own people, that protected them through thick and thin.
I do not see a city that was bombed heartlessly and ravaged by its neighbours just over 25 years ago, but a city that got back up and kept going. A city that grew. A city that, despite all the mess and destruction, rebuilt and kept living.
And I like to think that in another 300 years, when people are still wandering the walls of Dubrovnik, someone may stop and see this love heart and smile. They will see this heart as a reflection of our time – that somehow among the mess and chaos, there was still love, there was still happiness, there were people taking pleasure in the wonders of life and history, in the beauty of our world.
It is amazing what you can discover if you pause for a second to explore the unnoticed things in life. What may from afar seem like a mess, up close may actually be beautiful.