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  • Austen Hayes

Everything Is About Something Else


"Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere."

~ Albert Einstein

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



I don't ride the train to the city much these days, not since the pandemic began, but when I do I find the two-hour journey amusing and mind-opening. Last week's trip was no exception.


On a grey, rainy morning, four days after eye surgery, I boarded the 6:19AM train hiding swollen, black eyes behind dark, oversized sunglasses. As we left the station, the glasses slipping to the end of my nose and realizing I'd been pushing them back into place again and again, I pulled them off and stuffed them into my briefcase. Comfort wins over self-consciousness. One of the signs of aging I finally understand.


My mind drifts with the creaks and sway of the old cars. Freed from concern about appearance, I'm reminded of someone I think of as unassuming and too bright for vanity - Jane Goodall. Fully engaged in her eighties, her days are spent cultivating fresh relationships between younger generations and the world's threatened natural treasures. I admire her generosity and tireless commitment to something outside of herself and the wisdom of using her time to make the world better. Not only for today when she's able to see what comes of her labor, but for when she isn't. Her vigor inspires me to keep going in whatever small way I can, in whatever way might be right.


I see another woman in my mind's eye as clearly this morning as I did when I knew her years earlier. Also in her eighties, on hands and knees she tended the gardens of properties she bought and rented and sold on Main Street in a tiny village bordering Lake Champlain. A deep intelligence shone through steely-blue eyes, the colour made more intense in contrast to the earthen tones of her weathered skin. Body covered in oversized men's overalls, hair pinned into a wispy swirl at the crown, pieces fell as they would on a young girl lost in a task far more interesting than anything to do with what others might think.


I didn't know then, but I was memorizing signs of freedom earned, or lost, then found again. This woman, crouched to the ground, perhaps her strongest, most independent at this stage of life, seemed freed from concern of place among her fellow humans, no longer self-conscious, but 'conscious' to what matters beyond the 'self'. Most alive, returned to the purest curiosities of youth, a time when joy can be found in something as simple as the moisture and scent of dark, beautiful earth.


In the noticing have I been preparing for the day I would be like them...filing away visions that would one day reassure and comfort, creating companions for the days of aging I knew were sure to come?


On that ride with black eyes, not the sparkling blue that capture a man's admiring glance - I'd joined an older age overnight. But, nothing was lost, I thought. More is gained. Honest strength. The truest kind of liberty, rounding one of life's corners with a newly found excitement. What a surprise.


The train rumbles, my mind asks..."...what will you do in these years?" Photograph more? Try to write as you've tried many times before? I can't be a therapist forever. It's too hard. There are days and hours when I think I've lost patience, when I wish people would be more accepting of their fears and flaws and imperfections, and stop wanting to be something or someone other than the amazing creatures they are. I wish they would stop wasting time with anger and frustration at the imperfections and mistakes made by others. The lesson is mine as well, for days move quickly and must be cherished, not spent in turmoil, but in peace. My sister tells me I'm "burned out". Perhaps that's so.


I hear the repeating chug of wheels over track - thoughts turn to the sheep fields in England - as far as the eye can see - one delightful field connected to the next, wooden gates in between. I imagine slogging through, doing my best to avoid the dung. I reach for the latch, comforted by its sound and feel as the old boards nailed together in the shape of an X invite me in with a wide, welcoming swing to the side. In this timeless space low-slung clouds hang over windowless barns of golden stone, sheltering bales of hay stacked high. I hear an outdoor symphony, a perfect tune played ever so politely by an ensemble of birds and sheep and breeze.


I step in, then reach back making certain to close the latch behind me. It's here I'll capture photographs of the scraggly trees bending to one another in conversation. It's here I'll hear the squawk of the magpies, fighting for space in twisted limbs, and it's here I'm closest to my people who lived and loved and died in this countryside for hundreds of years before me. I say a prayerful hello.


Fields and people and creatures connecting, one to the other as the train moves on. For now, travel is only in my mind or to places nearby. Even if not for the pandemic, my beloved blind lab has grown too old for me to leave behind.


Thoughts shift again. This time to words. The way they can be moved about, this way and that, creating whole ideas. Properly positioned, they can teach wiser ways to be, capture a lover's heart, or mend one that's broken. I many times wish I could write more honestly. Be more open. Here too, life is restrained, this time by fears of disclosure, the saddest parts hidden under my heart, the flaws and shortcomings not easily admitted. The critic. The cynic. The impatient person, the sometimes frightened for the future person. I imagine one day, I'll say more, but not just yet. I hear myself ask, "...if not now, when?"



The sound of the conductor's voice brings me to now. As we leave one of the last stops on our journey he calls out in the unmistakable New York accent I love, reminding passengers, "from here on it's express all the way to Grand Central...don't forget to take all your belongings and thank you for riding with us today." The familiar feels good. Hearing the message, another connection is made to a client I once had who would arrive for his session wearing his blue conductor's shirt. Now, right this minute, remembering his kindness, seeing the vision of his gentle face, I send a text letting him know I'm where for 30 years he walked and worked and made people feel welcome.


"Hello, I'm on the train, thinking of you." Connecting.



Looking through the window before we enter the underground tunnel, I see the deepest green of late summer. One season soon to connect to the next.


Everything is about something else.


ah


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