Today, February 20, I stepped out of the shower and wrapped a soft, warm towel around my wet body. I lifted the towel up to my face and stood still, as I became enveloped by a memory, bringing me back to a life of simple wants and few needs. For a moment, I rose up, floated away, and was back on the train…washing my face in a tiny bathroom, absorbing my wet skin with inefficient paper towels. I was in the bathroom of Union Station, patting down my face with a T-shirt. I was in the bathroom of countless strangers’ apartments, removing water with whatever I could find–toilet paper, dirty towels, hairy cat-infested cloth, my own two-week-worn sweater. I rose up, soared away to drying my body with a 5-square-inch camping towel– not knowing if the prior dampness was semen or water.
And now I am here, motionless, buried within the warmth and softness of a clean, sweat-smelling towel. I laugh without restraint, without wondering why. I’ve been home for three days now.
Pulling my body upright, I turn to analyze myself in an unblemished mirror. So many mirrors across the country have shown the same reflection. I close my eyes and open them once again and I’m gone– I’ve risen up, floated away. The mirror I turn towards is clouded, scratched, vandalized and I see a vague reflection which resembles my own. I’m on the train, being casually thrown side-to-side by the unpredictable motion of the platform beneath me. The image I see is smiling, slightly, in good humor.
I close my eyes and reopen them to see my shell, my cover, my preamble. My mask. I am in joy, in gratitude. I am hungry, I am thirsty, I am lost, I have finally found. I am tired, I am–at last, rested. I, at last, am warm. My face is pale and sleep-deprived as I see my reflection in Chicago. Rosy, alert, clear of acne in NY. Smooth skin, restless eyes in D.C. Sticky hair, glasses, and a spotted face stare back at me through Colorado.
A forced smile, an eager smile, an optimistic smile, a genuine smile… an effortless smile I flash in the mirrors of private restrooms. Bathroom of Japanese food in NY, the deli of Time Square, Thai food in D.C, of a bar in Manhattan, lunch in Sacramento, in the mirrors of countless train stations. And now I’m here,in my own…space. I smile, not knowing what kind.
It’s Valentines Day. I’m alone, and yet I’ve never felt more alive. Never felt more loved. Been on the train for almost 6 weeks now. If I turned back after Minneapolis, out of fear, I would’ve never met all these people.
. . .
The train is riding about 50 yards away from the Pacific Ocean shore. Today I’m making the trek from L.A to San Luis Obispo– one of the most visibly stunning rides I’ve been on thus far. The sun is gleaming through the train windows and allowing me to witness indescribable beauty. But I will try:
The ocean far and wide, dark blue waters illuminated by sunlight pouring, enveloping a cloudless sky and highlighting the crests of waves as they break, glazing over the light brown sand, which is sparkling just as bright as the reflective water above.
Few things I know for sure. Few things I think I know for sure. I know that, to me, there is nothing more important than showing love to other people. This takes priority. And the result is that I’m not depriving myself of anything. By putting others first, I’m actually receiving the ultimate joy of providing love and support to someone who deserves it. Every single person on the planet deserves it. We didn’t choose this life.
This is what is what deserves attention…what is easy to discern as a path worth pursuing… and what is most meaningful to me. Treating people lovingly is not only the right thing to do tomorrow, or in 6 months, but is also the right decision in this moment, this very second. The right decision is timeless.
There are so many people we deem “crazy”–but what is “normal”? Just a word that segregates us…and put us at opposite ends of an imaginary, inaccurate spectrum. Terms like “normal” and “weird” create distance between us and the unknown, between the familiar and the unfamiliar. This distance is scary until I realize the person I’m talking to has felt all the same emotions I have–until I realize that we all endure hell every day and struggle to find means to cope. What am I afraid of? The ways we are similar outnumber the ways we are different.
Talking to strangers has allowed me to appreciate human nature in all its forms. There is no one single form that is most beautiful. The fact that every person I meet has an entirely different tone, different laugh, different talent, different perspective–this is where beauty is found. Human nature unifies us–and the ways we differ don’t necessarily have to divide us.
So much I do not know. So much I’ll never know and never become aware of. My own interests are limited to the sliver of experiences I’ve had in merely 20 years. I have to accept that there is no absolute right way to live, no right passion to pursue because absolute knowledge does not exist. How do I expect to make the perfect decision if I’ll never have a perfect awareness stretching over the entire world and all the seven billion people populating it–each individual’s life, each individual’s past experiences?
I can’t and will never have a flawless assessment of a worthy lifestyle. What is worth pursuing? There is no way to tell. You can only pursue something apparently. If something becomes more worthy than studying physics, than living near my family, then I will make the appropriate decision and correct my path.
After Portland, I headed for Tucson, Arizona to attend the Rock&Gem Show. In Eugene I met the sweetest homeless guy– I let him use my phone and gave him warm, dry socks after the city got hit by a massive snow/ice storm. We had a good conversation, revolving around the conditions of his homeless life. He had a heart-warming smile. Two things people can’t come to terms with when I speak of my trip: that I’m alone, and that I only have my backpack. He was surprised mainly that I was alone. “Don’t talk to people like me,” he joked as we smiled and said goodbye.
If anything, I want people to know that fear is obtrusive. It also serves no beneficial purpose unless we are running from mountain lion. Alertness had aided me. But flinching away from a conversation just because what we are looking at is unfamiliar to us, this..this cuts us off from potentially enriching life experiences. Later that night, the homeless man (Gary) used his friends phone to text me. “We should hang out before you leave.”