Reflections Before a Train


Standing on the BART platform looking out over the hilltops west of Concord, the mirrored faces of a squat cluster of high rise buildings staring silently back, I fell into contemplation. The light fading over the darkened ridge, the remnants of a once lovely sunset past it's prime glimmered as I looked up at the thin wisps of clouds silhouetted against the dying day, I felt myself sink into a familiar, shallow melancholy. I asked myself how I'd let the comfort of my life make me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. 

The heat of day hung in the still air around the terminal, reflecting off the concrete stairwell where I was leaning. There's something in the way a warm evening lulls you into a sense of ease, freeing your mind to wander. You ponder what it would be like to sell your car, to make your way through the world with only your two legs and a pair of well worn shoes. Eventually you begin to ask where all the time's gone. How many afternoons, or mornings for that matter, have slipped into early mornings of the following day without complication? How did the fat around your waist inch itself outward ever so easily that you barely seemed to notice until one day you looked critically in the mirror and were disappointed with what you'd become? But these aren't the troubling questions are they? These are just what is reflected in the shallows before you dive in.

How many days do I have left? How long will I remain healthy? But more so than any of these thoughts which, to be honest, aren't all that interesting to me or anyone else, there's always a nagging reminder in watching the end of a day slip quietly into night that, no matter what I do, I'll never know all there is to know. Most of which I am lucky enough to learn, I will likely forget.

This is why we write isn't it? To let the page remember when the mind becomes weak. And it is indeed weak. Maybe that's why the distractions are so enticing. When we are left to turn the lens inward and take a careful catalogue of what is and what isn't in us, so much of what we come to find is worrisome. All of our quirks and our shortcomings, our fears and secrets. They're all there waiting for us every time like boxes of trinkets from our past we can't bring ourselves to throw away. The ones that accumulate forgotten on dusty shelves in the garage. Their whole purpose to wait to be opened, to remind us of what we've done, left undone, and what we've lost.

If I only glanced through the lens, my initial feeling would be that I'm afraid. But that's not it, not entirely. I'm occasionally startled by something I read or overhear but more so I'm disenchanted, like the switch that made me give a shit about anything got flipped a few years back and all I seem to do now is live day to day doing just enough to appear to others as if I have a sense of forward motion. Even this isn't the whole truth. I have motivations that drive me. A need to be recognized, an impulse to create. Recognizing the limits of these explanations I'm forced to look deeper, and it's there I find I'm confused.

Adult life seems a twisted mess of false imperatives. Everyone competing with everyone else, clawing over one another like rats escaping a sinking ship. But from what do we scurry? More importantly, what are we reaching for? Basic comforts? Food, shelter, the freedom that is afforded those who earn a wage sufficient to grant them access to the many thrills and wonders of our age. The car, travel by air, and maybe most importantly the computer and the wealth of information and opportunity scattered around the Internet. Beyond that what else is there? More of the same. Power. Influence. Fame: the chance to cheat death in the only way we've learned so far, by living on in the minds of others. Maybe it's all just various means to the same end of finding significance in the short window of time we're given.

So many seem convinced they've got it all figured out when in reality their position and opportunities just as often the product of chance and timing as they were of hard work and perseverance.

Of course there's hope. I see it in the heart-felt embrace of good friends reunited, and in the faces the young adults in class with me, now almost a full generation my junior. And I see it in myself. That I recognize there are many problems, many behaviors I'd like to change, doesn't mean that I feel imprisoned by that knowledge. Instead I feel it a great gift to have some sense self awareness, even if that comes at the cost of realizing the scope of my success may be more limited than I'd once dreamed.

As the last traces of light were extinguished over the hills, replaced by the artificial orange glow of street lamps, I looked out over Concord and thought of all of the roads I'd never walk. Of all the people I'd never know and of their stories that would remain a mystery to me. Taking a deep breath as the train pulled to a stop, I stepped through the glaring light that poured out of its open doors and exhaled. What choice do we have but to ride?