Many experiences are so large that we merely float in animated suspension in the center of them, unaware how completely they surround us. To define experience as being larger than the self is not to define the self as a hapless, powerless particle at the mercy of the great forces of the universe, but rather to accurately acknowledge the issue of scale in such matters. I believe that experience is larger than our day-to-day awareness, that headlamp we use to get from hour to hour.
There is the purely pedestrian level of awareness: “Finish tonight’s class plan, walk the dog, meet Becca and the baby at 4. Appointment at 6 and then be uptown by 7:15. Shoot–out of peanut butter…and remember to get the transmission fluid checked…” And then there is a deeper, but still partial, level: “Feeling lonely…missing walks with Ali…the apartment is dark…but comfortable…sleeping soundly here…weirdness of walking out onto a city street so early in the morning.” But to me, these are still layers of consciousness that govern daily life, the small but persistent chain made of acts of survival whose purpose it is to keep us alive and well in the irreducible present.
What I am thinking about today are the experiences that can only be comprehended through a critical accumulation of time and perspective. Many days–often, even months or years–must pass in order for such experiences to be seen fully, or at all.
Two months ago I decided I would leave my home in North Carolina and move up to New York City for a year. Today, I have been in New York for two weeks and two days. Though I threw a wild bon voyage party, spent good long hours with my closest circle saying goodbye, and saved my last night for a special and deeply magical ritual with my home hoop tribe, the full experience of leaving flew past me like interstate scenery. I understood, albeit dimly, that the speed of events was a lubricant meant to get me out of one life and into another without allowing me to pause to change my mind. Sometimes the body understands that it is simply in process and will sweep the mind and heart along with it, tucking these essential but gravitational parts of the self into some inner lining, so that they might emerge later to distill the mass aggregate of experience into sustainable memory.
Now, a couple of weeks deep into a new life, I begin to catch flashes of meaning unearthing themselves: How comfortably and reliably I was plugged into my sources of power in the small pond of Carrboro. The pure shock of the absence of deeply known and beloved faces. The sadness of sundown. Unacknowledged pieces of identity fly up in my face like paper scraps on a windy street– Entitlement. Age Terror. Race Shame. Self-Importance. Invisibility. I turn squarely towards the Shadow and remember that this was the challenge I wanted and asked for.
Today, it has been twelve years since I last threw myself out into a bigger ocean on my own. I lasted exactly a year in San Francisco–suffering from Non-Seasonal Affective Disorder every single day I might add–and when I got in my car to leave I had a vague idea I’d head back to New York, the world of my college days. I was six months away from my 30th birthday and thought it might be the right time. However, when the engine came to life, my little green VW happily brrred its way straight back home to North Carolina as though this decision had nothing whatsoever to do with me. Only 64 hours after I started my journey over the Bay Bridge in a full Friday 5 o’clock traffic jam, I leapt out of the car at 4 a.m. in a parking lot in Asheville and cried as I breathed in lungfuls of the precious, familiar air.
For three months I walked on clouds, finally back where I belonged. Finally recognizing where I belonged. Finally recognizing that I belonged. The Tar Heel with no accent, rejector of sororities and debutante balls, Barnard-educated multicultural world traveler, had come home to a sleepy Southern college town of 40,000. It was not the life I had envisioned, but I could not help recognizing that it just felt right.
In a startlingly similar way, two months ago, I knew that yet another large transition–one that I had let go of imagining almost entirely–just felt right. I saw it suddenly before me, this future, as clear and precise as though it had been etched by an engraver. How did it spring up like that, in full form? How had I ever known what to do?
And here I sit in the pretty little gazebo in the middle of the big grassy yard in the middle of the Compound in the middle of Bedford-Stuyvesant in the middle of Brooklyn, now (again? finally?) my second home, preparing hoop class. A part, as always, of something bigger than myself.