How to get some perspective
Your best friend asks if you want to go to the coast after brunch with some friends. Say yes because you didn’t have plans anyway and it’s been weeks since you left Portland.
In the car don’t play with your phone, make small talk or be silent and stare out the window watching the farms turn into forest. Eventually This American Life comes on the radio, Ira Glass says, “We head off cheerfully toward plan A. But Plan A turns out completely different from what we thought it was going to be and so we switch to a backup, and then the backup plan becomes our life.” Everyone in the car groans.
Heading South down 101 you pass Hug Point State Park; in college you and your roommates stopped there on a road trip, you called it ‘Point-Hug-a-Point’. That road trip was a decade ago.
On the path down to Oswald State Park you pass a tree that has fallen, it’s root system lies exposed to you. In the freshly exposed dirt tiny ferns are already growing.
Near the end of the trail a friend stops because there is a caterpillar crawling across the path. He finds a tiny stick and prods the caterpillar until it turns back the way it came. You and he used to date. Remember how distant he was when you were together but how every so often he would surprise you with a small kindness from time to time. Some of your friends didn’t know what you saw in him.
The north end of the beach is a cliff, notice the layers of rock that make up the cliff face, how they bend like a wave. It took millions of years of heat and pressure to create those layers, it took millions more years for the ocean to erode away the cliff so you could see this. Pick at one of the layers with your finger and tear it free, it takes only a second. Leave the piece of shale you broke off at the bottom of the cliff with the countless other pieces that have fallen off.
When you catch up to everyone at the North end of the beach they will have taken off their shoes and are playing in the surf. The sky is grey but there are dozens of people out here today, all doing what you are doing, just walking up and down beach looking out at the ocean. Out in the water surfers in black wet suits sit on surfboards waiting for waves. In the distance is the horizon and more ocean than you can possibly comprehend. You are standing at the edge of the continent, at the edge of all the routine that makes up your life. Every weekday you sit in an office and turn off; every weekend you try to cram as much living into your waking hours as possible. Ad infinitum. Your whole life takes place in a small fraction of small city on an enormous planet. Your best friend asks if you are ready to go back, you say yes, but you aren’t sure.