Thursday, September 21, 2017

50 for 50 day 15: Stranger in a strange land

This is the 15th of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here.

I am writing this as I sit on a train heading from New York City to Boston. I woke yesterday in my own Minnesota home, flew 1500 miles and now am journeying another 200 or so. It is nothing short of miraculous. I am awed that this journey, once so very long, dangerous and fraught, is now commonplace enough that I am the only one staring out the window at the world passing my.

Right now the train is passing old industrial buildings with tall, precarious smokestacks; graffiti; homes that might be places of refuge or fear, just like any home. 

There are as many platitudes about travel as there are travelers so I won't bore you with them. Instead I will tell you that one of my favorite feelings is that of being a stranger in a strange land. It might be when I'm in an unfamiliar neighborhood, it might be when I'm been someplace far from home. The degree of feeling can vary tremendously, of course, but every single time it happens I am reminded of my smallness and my individual nature.

Right now the train is passing a pond and park. The green is that faded autumn green and the bridge leading into the park over the pond (or river) has low elegant arches and a draw in the middle for any passing watercraft. The gulls shimmer white against the water.

When I have found myself facing great trauma, I tend to travel. I go someplace far from home where I can remind myself of this: I am a tiny speck in the universe, effectively immeasurable, but no less unique and vital. It's been a great comfort, being reminded of my own minuteness and paradoxical necessity. After Kevin's death I went to Alaska so I could feel small and be reminded that his death meant he was now a part of everything, so big and broad and lovely.

Right now the train is passing through an urban forrest. Heavy vines cling to the telephone lines running alongside the tracks. The flickering light between the trees reveals rusted shopping carts and a shack that might be home or long abandoned.

We need those reminders, those steps beyond what's comfortable, to remember that we are neither the center of the universe nor unnecessary. When we are strangers in a strange land we have the opportunity to see the world as it is: Pulsing. Vibrating. Ever present, even when we want to hide. Enormous and chaotic and mysterious. Reachable but never something we can encompass. Yet still something that has room for each us and might even celebrate us on occasion.

Right now the train is passing a broad expanse of train tracks, lines that never touch converging in the distance, the illusion more powerful than my understanding of how it may really be. There are parking lots to the side, full of cars that, in this quick glimpse, all seem pristine. The stone walls of the train tunnel would smell like cool time and the momentary scent of metal hot from friction. 

This is what 50 looks like. A stranger in a strange land, observing, welcoming, here.
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

1 comment:

  1. I am behind in reading this, but I wanted to say what a lovely post this is. I found a lot to take away in it.


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