Obi and I were chatting over coffee the week before last. The day before I left for Alaska. We were talking about the universe, as one does when one is half asleep and half awake, hopped up on caffeine in the company of a sleep-deprived, suddenly 40-year-old friend.
I was packing. Long johns, jeans, socks, skirt.
I told him my latest theory, which is that there is something beyond our infinite universe (which is only infinite to us because it’s impossible for us to comprehend its vastness). This thing beyond is even bigger, more magical, mysterious, and worthy of our awe.
When I was growing up, we had the back yard, where the grass was soft, and the way back, beyond the vegetable garden. It’s where my father tried to grow his dwarf apricot trees and we chipped mica off of rocks. Past the way back and over the stone fence was the way, way back, where a wild pumpkin patch grew. The way, way back had black-berry bushes, golf balls we’d bring back to my father so he could practice putting, and an occasional mattress.
It was forbidden territory, so we were always there. Lost for hours, picking wild flowers to bring back to our mother, who was invariably allergic to whatever gifts we presented.
The back yard was like the earth, the way back, the universe. And the way, way back, the whatever that is beyond our comprehension.
That morning, over coffee, it seemed to me that life is the third draft of a novel that needs another few rewrites. It’s written, but not well. Anything can change.
“I think the universe is like us,” he said. “Tripping along, pressing buttons to see what happens. Moody. Hoping no one notices when it makes a mistake.”
“Riding the fine line between fate and free-will…”
“Drinking a beer. Learning as it goes…”
I take my coffee lightened with really good milk, and sweetened by beautiful, raw honey. I’m picky about my mugs.
Obi takes his coffee black, with a splash of water. He’ll drink anything out of anything.
By eleven, the coffee was cold, the conversation over, and I was surrounded by small piles of clothes.
“I hope I packed okay,” I said.
“It’s not like you’re going to the end of the universe.”
“Feels like it.”
“But you’ll be able to find a tooth-brush. If you need one.”
I’ve often considered life an improvisational, experimental piece of performance art. Sometimes the moments are eye-rollingly mundane, and other times, distilled, intense, and deeply moving.
First and foremost, I traveled to Alaska to get a date. I take my research very seriously. But, as a side project, I wanted to see something of such breath-taking beauty that it changed my entire paradigm.
Armed with a seven to one ratio and a mini-skirt, I figured my date would find me, so I focused on the more pressing challenge of finding breath-taking beauty in Alaska.
I expected a front row seat to the Northern Lights would suffice.
Here’s what I think now:
If we’re mirrored by the universe, and the universe is mirrored by us, quantum siblings tripping through life, I am honored to be related to the greatest artist known to man. There is, out there, a beauty that defies human language. It’s filled with a mystery I don’t want to solve. Broad strokes of colored light smeared across the sky, a forest covered just so with snow, the mountains cradling a fat, juicy slice of quiet. The attention to detail is heart breaking.
Like a slow, icy slide into a snow bank with 32 chattering Japanese tourists while colored curtains painted by an invisible hand consume the night, living is the moment between eyes open and eyes closed when you’re not sure if you’re dreaming or sitting at the airport at 4 a.m., wondering if you remembered to pack underwear. It all swirls together and blends into a rich stew of questionable ingredients.
I’ve been lucky to be mostly warm and rarely hungry all of my life. And even though I can demolish a three ingredient brownie mix and render the finished product inedible, lose my favorite pen and my favorite hat on the same day, and hurt a stranger’s feelings by accident, I can also walk five miles with a skinned knee, smiling.
I assume the universe can do all that, too. But better.
As for the great beyond. I don’t know. Maybe it looks like Hackensack. Or Detroit. Hard to tell.
I did have a date, by the way. I’ll tell you about it next week.