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It’s rush hour on a California freeway, and I am going the right direction.
A wall of white lights trace out the highway in front of me for a string of blinding miles. In my lane, red lights are sparser than I would think they would be on a holiday weekend. For one moment as I round a sweeping curve, there are no cars in sight. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to ever be alone in an metropolis of such millions.
A familiar anxiety settles over me as I enter the city. It all moves faster than I am accustomed, cars squeezing in on all sides of me, pushing against the warning of yellow signals, cresting steep hills, merging through splashes of pedestrians. I park tentatively in an area that simultaneously warns”no parking” but permits it, depending on the time.
We gather beneath a large clock tower that marks the ferry building, draping forearms against our bikes, feathering brakes, leaning over tires as the regulars hug each other and the newbies shake hands. A bike bell marks the end of social time. Then the pack of us fan out, breezing in the bike lane, jockeying amid each other. The ocean laps on one side. Cars ease around us on the other. Despite the early darkness, the city is alive with blinking signs and street performers and car horns. We make periodic stops in the light-less enclaves of parks, clicking off our headlamps so our voices must find each through the dim. The familiar silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge provides orientation.
Then five of us break off from those with thinner tires and head onto dirt lanes under the shelter of trees. We hop from park to park, where swathes of vegetation seem displaced in a city. The pace is quicker now with fewer people. Now that we have begun the serious portion of the ride, our stops lack the leisure of before.
There is something soothing about riding in the dark. It is quiet. The circle of light in front of you is your present reality. Nothing else exists. Each challenge comes one at a time. That makes them seem less daunting. If only life were like that.
Ahead of me, the others have peddled over a dirt lip back onto the next patch of pavement. Red lights on backpacks and seat posts flash at intermittent intervals. My heart is pounding.
Later in bed I feel stretched and thinned and parched. But I plot the next time I can do it again.
I probably could have found justifications for not being happy if I had wanted to. Parents who were divorced when I was young. Some pretty messy heartbreaks. Some of those insolvable family tensions.
But to me happiness was always a given. Those things were just bumps in the road of a pretty great life.
It’s only relatively recently that mentality has taken more convincing. Somewhere along the line, those things I thought I always would have never came. Those things I took for granted went away. But most disconcertingly, the faith I had securely renewed began taking a beating. It’s like someone began pushing back my fingers one by one from the grip I had on it.
And so my soul slid into this melancholy. I feel like I have been fighting off the black tar of self pity. Sometimes I let it linger before shaking it. Sometimes I reel back from it, but it still crouches in a corner of my mind. It brings a numbing lethargy.
Still, there are these moments of reprieve.
I am sitting beside a fire in the mountains of a far off place. The flames lap at the cold air. A friend stands at a make-shift table nearby, pouring me a glass of wine. We swing between goofy and thoughtful. In this moment, I am happy, I think.
Later, I lay in a tent with the doughy material of my sleeping bag pulled in around my face. Our words float up around us as we lay there, shrinking from the bite of the cold. This is nice, I think.
In the days after, I hold to the handlebars of my bike, letting it glide on the ups and downs and sways of a powdery trail. The movement feels exhilarating, refreshing.
Tonight, I am sitting in a wooden pew, letting the mellow sounds of blues wash over me. I tilt my head back on my seat and watch as the singer’s hands weave up the stem of his guitar. Something about his voice, his music, is like a balm to those parts of me that have felt a bit tender.
Sitting here, I don’t want to go back to the dim light of my present outlook. I want to bathe in the respite that moments like this bring. They are like bread crumbs God has doled out in the midst of a season of bare cupboards.
Some say happiness is based on events. It is joy you should seek, which doesn’t come on the tides of circumstance.
To me, they have always felt like the same thing. Because I knew how to be happy about the good things that often come side-by-side with the bad. I hope this deviation from my norm is a momentary detour back to a road I’ve paved.
In the meantime, I relish these reprieves.
I am focused on her feet in front of me. Sand and black remnants of lava crumble from each of her footprints as she takes another step upwards. Then I follow suit.
My lungs are desperately sorting through the air I breathe for molecules of oxygen, which are evasive at 10,000 feet. The summit is a jagged black promise across a field of snow.
Two days ago, I wasn’t sure if I would make it here. Three jobs were demanding a lot of me. Deadlines were looming. I was exhausted from a series of out-of-town excursions. I had worn out the same words praying for my dad’s health as he recovered from chemo. A stubborn injury and some health-related bills had left me disillusioned. It’s too much, I thought.
But for some reason, I summoned the little bit of energy I had and got in my car and drove for hours. Past hay fields and mountain passes and tiny towns with rusty water tanks.
At the top we let our legs hang off a ledge while we eat bagel sandwiches and carrots and trail mix. We laugh, and I forget all about home. The air has a bite, but the sun on my jacket is warm. Peaks ripple below the tips of our shoes. And suddenly everything, even the things that had loomed above me days before, seems very small.
This scene is over-saturated with color in surreal proportions: the red of the rock, the blue of the sky, the teal green of a glacial lake. I’m drinking in the colors with insatiable thirst, as if they will somehow refill my empty reserves.
There is something intoxicating about the color and the air and the sun at 10,000 feet. And there is something refreshing about the 10,000 steps it takes to get there.
I woke up to a trail of ants coursing from the ceiling into a sink full of unwashed dishes.
This is when I pay for the past weekend, I thought.
I never was able to have fun at low speeds. It is all or nothing. From zero to 60. I pack it in in strings of events I shouldn’t have time for. Now-a-days, it is a healthy kind. That wasn’t always so.
The past three days were each 12 hours straight of sunshine, live music, tens of thousands of people, heat, serving sandwiches and dancing. My heels are cracked and black. My lungs are full of dust. I’m sunburned. I’m drained. A headache from dehydration pools at my temples. Sometimes fun is exhausting.
It’s nearly 1 p.m. and I’m still in my pajamas. I feel as though the past three days, as ideal as they were at the time, have sucked the energy from me. I’m suddenly looking forward to resuming the normal patterns of eat, work, eat, gym, eat, sleep.
While I was away, my home sat by neglected. I’m still not unpacked from my trip to Denver the previous weekend. My room is a regalia of clean and dirty laundry, draped over baskets and drying racks and in piles on the floor. I’m dreading having to sort that out. My kitchen table and its matching chairs have become a dumping ground for unopened mail and an unpacked backpack and stray clothing and a pile of shoes. I didn’t pay my rent. A vase of dead flowers sits on my fireplace. My floor needs sweeping. My plants need watering. I’m out of milk, toilet paper and coffee. Of the three, coffee is the one I miss the most.
A long list of responsibilities and obligations keep surfacing in my mind, one at a time.
And then there is that pile of dishes. The one that beckoned the ants from the outside in. I beat them back with a can of Raid, only to find them in the doorways of my cabinets. Ants really like cereal.
We’ve had it out before, and I thought I had won. But it only takes three days of a whirlwind music festival for them to find a jackpot in my kitchen, in the mess left over.
It’s late, the dusk beginning to creep over the pavement like a fog. It’s quiet, the silence held taunt like a tent.
My shoes beat out a quiet rhythm on the pavement, not audibly, but I can feel it.
Sometimes I feel like moments like this are the only time my mind is clear. I don’t think at all. Or I think in a steady bubbling stream whose fitful jumble begins to cull out logic. Or I pray.
Someone starts a lawn mower, pricking the silence like a pin.
Running is one of the few times I listen to dub step and electronic music. For some reason it fits. The pulse of the beat is driving, all-encompassing. It is like stepping to an alternative world. It distracts me from the heavy temptation to stop.
I’ve always liked hills. That seems like an unlikely preference, but they are a rift in the boredom of the flats. They are a challenge I like to pose to myself.
“I love running. I’m not into marathons, but I am into avoiding problems at an accelerated rate. ” – Jarod Kintz
This is the only time when avoiding problems works.
I’m stopped at a green light.
There is something maddening about being trapped here, in a mass deadlocked cars.
The light holding back the oncoming traffic shifts. Lanes heave and release cars and trucks and big rigs into the intersection.
And so begins my day.
I never thought I would ever be here, one in a trail of traffic tracing my route to work. I belong on empty back roads in states where the each person has square miles of their own. I belong on crystal clear rivers or powdery slopes.
Somehow, one small step after another led me here. Yet I feel more purpose here, in masses of cars and among millions of people, than I ever have before. Like somehow I shifted my grip on a bat and found my sweet spot.
These two parts of me seem in constant opposition, pulling me in two parts.
When I’m on those rivers and empty roads and powdery slopes, I feel alive and refreshed. And yet, at my job here I feel inspired and excited.
I wish I could have both.
And so here I am, stopped at a green light.
The sun breaking through the clouds had teased warmth, but it’s colder than it looks when I get out of my car. I pull my hooded sweatshirt over my head to push back the cold and bend to loop my key in my shoelaces.
Only a few hours ago, the area drank in a splash of rain, and now it seems to be sighing in contentment. Little beads of raindrops give blades of grass a brilliance previously muted with drought.
The trail through the park is a sticky slide of mud, layered with yellowed leaves that have wiggled into the tacky mess. A slug lazily stretches across the blanket they have patched together for him.
I duck under a tree that has spread its branches horizontally over the path, so that the tips rest on the ground. It as if it has lost the strength to hold those branches upright. Instead, it pulls a moss blanket over its trunk and rests.
I feel the weight of solitude without feeling alone.
The hills are a tapestry of green fringe, rolling effortlessly into the horizon. Above, a feather of clouds lace a sky that is the babiest of blues. The breeze carries the pungent scent of mud and leaves and oak. With each breath, I feel life filling my lungs.
A few days ago, I prayed for God to romance me. As love stories are scrawled all around me in elegant script, mine has remained quietly unwritten. That silence can be painful, especially when it comes from God. So I asked him for a token, really. Anything.
He knows the way to my heart.
This, I think as I crest another hill alive with moss and birds and rays of sunshine through raindrop prisms, is romance.