I’ve said it once and will say it again: Trains are dangerous; trains make me think. See, e.g., Take heed of the stormy weather. I don’t know why it is that they do. Some weird mix of travel nostalgia and the loneliness of sitting next to an empty seat occupied only vaguely by my own thoughts.
Most often I have this thought, which is mostly foolish, about being born in Illinois and finding myself sitting on a train in New York or the District, so far away from home. I smirk a bit to myself because, I guess, it is gratifying thinking that I made it all this way over the last twenty-eight years–that I escaped the cornfields and I’m sitting in a city a thousand miles away that’s mine.
Next, I usually think about being able to get to New York in just hours, or anywhere but the District. I think about the Sun Also Rises and the nights they had stumbling from one bar to another in Paris, champagne or cocktail in hand, and embracing a strange sort of purgatory in life that isn’t punishment because it’s better than heaven. And I wish that was me. See, e.g., Is the past a time or a place?
I have it pretty good though. There is some money in my pocket, friends to laugh with, and work to be done, work that I like. But like several friends I’ve spoken to, I hate that feeling in the back of my head, smack between my ears, that life is going by and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s like jumping out of a plane without a parachute: enjoy the ride because you can’t control it and it’s going to end.
That feeling seems to have burrowed so far into my head its taken up permanent residence. It’s not depression; it’s not that. It’s regret in advance. It’s like knowing that I’ll miss out on all the exotic things in life and there’s nothing I can do about it. I won’t know what it’s like to wake up one day in my bedroom in Rio and have nothing much to do that day, or drive around Europe knowing that it isn’t vacation, it’s just life.
It’s made all the worse by that feeling that I have two feet, the means, and the want to do anything. The, “What’s wrong with you, why are you just sitting here?” feeling. So I think of all these things I could do. What about a law job in London? Or maybe work a job in Madrid? Move to New York and see what happens? But I don’t jump into them, I only dip my toes by pausing reality and taking a vacation here and there.
And then I think maybe that that thought in my head is just a coping mechanism, a merciful distraction from being here now. It’s easy to not think about finding someone here if I’m thinking about moving there. It’s easy not to make plans for days in the District if I’m making plans for days at Burning Man. It’s easy not to see life in the District if I’m thinking life in New York being great.
Maybe this is just normal and maybe that’s the most terrifying part of it all. I’m normal, you’re normal, we’re all, for the most part, just normal—beige I say. I wasn’t chosen to be one of those people with the Kerouac Vaudville act for a life. I’m not one of those people who writes a book about his life and no one thinks it narcissistic because it’s just a matter of fact that his life is interesting and people want to read about it.
I blame most of this on our parents. We are the “You’re Special” generation. Everyone is allegedly unique and everyone can do whatever they want. There’s nothing wrong with being unique but one feels so guilty if they turn out mostly normal. (Pleasantville comes to mind.) And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be an astronaut, but someone should have had the obligation to let us know that most people don’t become astronauts. Without that cold water, it shouldn’t be surprising that the I-want-to-be-an-astronaut person may feel underachieving when they become a portfolio manager.
Unfortunately, this is the concluding paragraph, but I don’t have the answer to any of these problems. I can only say that we must recognize life is a gift whether you can control it or not, whether normal or not. And, precisely because so much of it is out of control, I should, we all should, be here now. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it doesn’t solve the problems, but it’s its own solution because the now is all we’ve got. Indeed, I’ve been on this train for an hour lost in these thoughts, and, in my distraction, I have no idea what has, out the window, passed me by.
Image courtesy of frankieleon. Some rights reserved.