Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Memory

Sometimes it feels like life develops a theme. The same questions arising from seemingly unconnected daily events--a conversation, a song, a dream, an email, a horoscope, a magazine article--tiny things that as they add up make you search out the heart of who you are. It's hard to put the experience into words and even harder to extrapolate some kind of coherent meaning from it. But here goes...

Perhaps it began with a piece of environmental art, or at least this was the first instance that struck me. It was a cloudy, cool day in early June, one day into my mini-vacation to DC, and I was feeling the lethargy of that one hour jet lag. I was at a park on the Gwynn Falls Trail in Baltimore for the kick-off celebration of the Art on the Trail Festival. Before I arrived, I'd pictured a city park with lots of benches, maybe a playground, and definitely a coffee shop nearby where I could get my fix first. Instead, when I finally found the park tucked far back on the curving, wooded backroads of suburban Baltimore, I discovered the park was more of the recreation variety with a stone pavillion, picnic tables, and apparently somewhere a path to this elusive trail, but not a coffee shop in sight. The art festival wasn't what I expected either. Instead of the arts and crafts fair I'd envisioned, it was an environmental art exhibition by local artists who had used the natural surroundings as a backdrop or actually to create art.

Some of it was strange to say the least: CDs hanging by strings of varying lengths from low limbs in a oak grove, a tree-like sculpture made of popcicle sticks attached to a dead tree stump. What stood out to me was an eight-foot green banner with white lettering anchored by stones and floating in the stream that ran through the park. It read: "What You Are Looking for Is Lost." The tour group moved on, but I couldn't tear myself away. I sat on the stones and stared hard so I'd remember the setting. I tried to no avail to take a picture with my camera phone. Finally I jotted down the words on the back of an old receipt in my purse and prepared to leave.
But later, walking by the harbor, eating a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich at a dive diner, sorting through vintage records at a local music store, sipping a vodka and cranberry in a hip, noisy DC bar, laying in bed trying to stay awake all night to savor the last few moments of the trip, on an almost missed flight home, and for days and weeks after, the words played like a refrain in my head and made me wonder.

Aside from the obvious environmental statement, what was the larger implication? Is all lost? Are all the things I really want beyond my reach? For all my general cynicism about life, I couldn't believe that was true. The world may be a mess, but everything will work out for me won't it?! Attempting to comfort myself by cataloguing all the things that were not in fact lost, led me to the blinding question: What am I looking for anyway? What do I want? Only things I can't have? What about love, happiness, contentment--are these things floating further from me on a current too rapid for me to swim? Never, of course not, I told myself, even as I've watched concrete examples of those larger goals drift away from me.

Since then, whether I'm subconsciously looking or not, those words have arisen in a thousand other ways and set me on the conscious search for the "what" that I don't want to inadvertantly lose. What things, ideas, people are worth throwing myself into the current for, and when it comes down to it, do I have the courage to take the metaphorical plunge?

Hmmm...well, The End? More later, perhaps.


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