As I walked down the neon city streets on Thursday night, the words ‘How DID I get here?’ went through my head. And they stayed there. And repeated themselves, over and over and over.
I don’t have a lot of clear, I-can-see-the-words-in-my-head thoughts, but these words were bold–big letters dripping with disbelief (sans serif letters, for you typography geeks).
‘How DID I get here?’
It wasn’t the defeated kind of ‘Ungh, HOW did I get here?.’ I know how that kind goes. That kind is behind the way-too-long minutes (hours?) spent sitting barefoot on the bed, ‘oh, I don’t even know. Maybe I should read a book or move to a different country or something.’ That kind has seen me walking uncomfortably to the edge of nowhere (which I have yet to find, by the way), face buried in cheap sunglasses. That kind powers searches for nearest place where it feels okay to cry out “Um, God? Hi. Can you or your kid or someone who knows what they’re doing please take it from here?”
No, on Thursday it was nothing like that.
But it wasn’t the excited ‘WOW, How did I get here?,’ either. I have had a few of those moments recently. When Sex, Lies, and Storytime started spinning around the internet and loading up with comments, I literally ran into the bathroom and freaked out in front of the mirror: “Ohmygod. Am I actually a writer now? I’m a writer now. People are reading what I write.” (<< that is the toned-down, less embarrassing version.). Two weeks ago, I was sitting in my little DC room, practicing guitar and keeping up with some internship work, when I was suddenly overwhelmed by the power of music and ‘Wow!’ the fact that I was a part of it. I felt lucky. I felt good. ‘How did I get here?’
Thursday night was fun, but it wasn’t profoundly exciting. Nor was it profoundly upsetting. It was ‘How DID I get here?,’ a mix of amazement and…confusion, I think. Not good confusion or bad confusion, just the genuine I need to place this moment somewhere in my brain. Where do I place it? Where does it fit?
The thought wouldn’t budge.
‘How DID I get here?’
I haven’t faced those words a whole lot these last few years. I used to play the ‘How DID I get here?’ game all the time–when growing pains meet the travel bug, you rarely know completely where you are, how you got there, or what to think about it. But the last few years, I have just been living in Ottawa. Ottawa, which feels so strongly like Home. I never really had to consider my life there through the disbelief lens. It was just “adjusting,” and then “adjusted.” There were times I felt a little lost in what my life looked like, but I knew exactly how I got there. And I knew exactly where I was going.
Except, I didn’t. Because it turns out, I was going to the United States. I just never knew it.
I didn’t know I was going to end up in Washington DC….I still don’t understand quite how I ended up here, really. I know I applied for a few internships. I know I got a position at the Smithsonian. My days are spent in an office across from the National Mall. I eat breakfast every morning. By 5 pm, I have usually overdone Diet Coke and brainpower. My Saturdays are spent at the Holocaust Museum. My Sundays are spent spiritually addressing the fact my Saturdays are spent at the Holocaust Museum (easier said than done, but it’s important for me to be there).
It’s not a particularly mind-boggling lifestyle, but I can’t quite figure out how it ended up being my lifestyle.
I guess I’m asking you, then…Do those words (or something similar) ever go through your head? Do you ever go hunting for a comprehensive narrative as to why-how-why your life is what it is?
Here’s my theory: Most lives don’t fit into any sort of beginning-middle-end box. Even if they do, most of us are probably just hanging out in the “middle” looking for reasons and analyzing our lives like it’s the “end”. And most people don’t quite fit where they are, at least not all the time.
I think a lot of us look for timelines and reasons why-how-why when really, it’s not supposed to make sense. Not as much sense as we would like it to make, that is. And so I go back to this, as I always do:
“You are where you were always going, and the shape of home is under your fingernails.” – from the poem Transient by Al Purdy