Another weekend is over. I’m on Train 175 heading back to D.C., heading back home. There’s a woman sitting across from me talking on her cellphone. “It’s okay to be scared of thunderstorms; I used to be scared of thunderstorms too,” she whispers to her son on the other side of the phone. It’s not storming here yet, but it’s spitting rain—water droplets are hugging the windows as the speed of the train forces them, against their own protest, to move along.
Now, you may or may not know that I always ask myself what I learned as a trip comes to a close and the gravity of everyday life pulls me back to the District. See, e.g., And, In the End, PAGAN KINGDOM (“I guess, this is that moment where I should talk about what I learned (or, more appropriately, what I think I learned.)”). This week was not a trip around the world, or even around the country for that matter though. Maybe I should be excused from my own self-reflection over such a short period of time lest it seemed feigned. But, I’m on a lonely train with my thoughts and a keyboard, so I think it’s worth putting thought to paper.
I was sitting alone on a subway platform. I had gone out to Brooklyn for a barbeque with a friend I’d met in Madrid back in 2008. After the barbeque, I was heading back to Manhattan to meet up with an old friend and an older friend for one last night of sharing stories over a drink and maybe risking having one too many of those drinks. To my left this giant of a man, dressed in black, bearded, and sweaty in the July heat, had a guitar resting on his beer belly. He started strumming a few chords and then singing Boots of Spanish Leather.1 His voice rivaled Dylan’s and emotion dripped off every word:
I got a letter on a lonesome day
It was from her ship a-sailin’
Saying I don’t know when I’ll be comin’ back again
It depends on how I’m a-feelin’
Well, if you, my love, must think that-a-way
I’m sure your mind is roamin’
I’m sure your heart is not with me
But with the country to where you’re goin’
It was, I think, one of those moments I’ll never forget. I’ve had a few of them—alone on edge of the water in Puerto Rico in the small hours of the morning or at a table with friends on an island in the middle of the Danube, but I wasn’t expecting the one this weekend.2 I’m not religious, but if I was, I think these few-and-far between moments are the closest we can get to a religious experience.
I was tired and let my head rest on the cool subway tile. I was sweating through my shirt and sweat was running down the side of my face. My feet hurt, and, hell, a hangover from the night before was stubbornly clinging to its last few minutes. But, in spite of the circumstance’s efforts otherwise I fell into a strange peace listening to that song.
And, that’s when I slipped into thought about the last week with old friends and what the week was about. It was about growing up together but growing apart at the same time. It was about enjoying who we’ve become and what we’ve accomplished, sharing excitement about what life might put in front of us next, and commiserating over the vengeful thought that so much of what we pretend to control is actually out of our control.3
In many ways, it was also about coming to terms with what we’ve done to each other, both good and bad, how we’ve left our own mark on each other, some more permanent than others, and attempting to keep our current common bond from becoming another historical footnote in our as-of-yet unwritten memoir. And, it was about knowing all of this and knowing too that my friends thought the same thing even if in passing only and even if we didn’t talk about it.
Many of my friends have moved away from the District over the past year. Its gravitational pull was, apparently, not as strong on them as it is on me. There are nights in D.C. now—ones that would have been foreign a year ago—where I feel a bit alone in our otherwise very big world. It mostly creeps in when the day was long and the night of sleep before was short. Weekends like this though put those episodes of loneliness in perspective.
In the end, even if we’re not in the same cities anymore, we’re not alone; we’re all still characters in each other’s stories. Even if we don’t have as many raucous nights together as we used to, that doesn’t mean we never will again—so long as we refuse to believe that our youth is over.4 What we’ve already done together (and what we’ve done to each other) has changed us and changed how we think about the world and the people in it.
It’s good that we’re in it together, because, let’s be honest, none of us know what we’re doing and much of what we’re trying to control in life is out of our control. Life takes us with it and we have to learn as we go; we have to adapt. And, of course, sometimes we’ll still get caught in the stormy weather. We’ll try to take shelter under a tree or hug a building or huddle together under an umbrella to avoid the downpour that life sometimes brings with it,5 but no matter what we try to do we’re still going to get a little wet and that’s what this trip taught me: We all just have to embrace it.
A lot of the time, it’s the most random, ordinary moments that stay with me. They come looking for me and refuse to leave. ↩
Please ignore the fact that it sounds like I’m writing an episode-closing soliloquy for the Wonder Years. It just came out that way. ↩
I stole this from Mark. Sorry, Mark. ↩
I did this today walking down 34th St. ↩