Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I Left My Heart In...

It's back to the grind after a glorious week in San Francisco, the greatest city on earth. A friend said tonight that there is a marked difference in my mood and energy since I've been back.

"Even your skin looks different," he said.

"I'm browner," I said.

"No, something else," he said.

Love, probably. And life. Something renewed in my spirit and my soul. Something gently shaken and lovingly reawakened. My head tilted with curiosity, my eyes squinting into the sun, my shoulders dipping and legs zipping around people to get a better view. Showered once again by the love of old friends, the kindness of strangers, and all the things that make my pulse race for the place that I call home only because it resides in my heart.

I reconnected with the people who paint my world there with broad and fine strokes, in vivid and muted colors. I got to know distant connections who are now being recruited to nourish the love and wonder and passion for life that only seems to spring forth when I'm out there. I reconnected with the city itself -- a living, breathing, pulsing mass of rolling hills, crashing surf, dramatic cliffs plunging into deserted beaches and shimmering tidepools, tiptoeing fog, crisp blue skies, sprawling bridges and winding highways and car-free bike lanes.

There have been tiny tiny men who were threatened by the knowledge that I'd never love them as much as I love San Francisco. They have bellowed in their weak, quivering voices that San Francisco is not a living thing and wouldn't miss me if I moved away to follow and prop up their empty souls. They lacked imagination, they lacked self-worth, and they lacked a compelling reason to take up precious space on our planet. So when a tomato truck ran them over while they were wiping their crack with poison oak leaves on the side of Interstate 5, I only mourned for the tomatoes.

So what? I love bloody marys.

In San Francisco, I'm alive. The vitality and passion that were part of my daily wardrobe, tucked into every vein when I lived there years ago, became fiery again. I'm not sure what it is, this match struck against a coarse surface, this beacon through pea soup fog, these hibernating parts of my soul that bound out of bed at the crack of dawn when I find myself sitting on the dock of the Bay, wasting no time.

In New York, those parts of me have fallen asleep. At some point in the last three years, complacency took over. Things started to seem good enough. Monkey dancing for lethargic bureaucracies seems good enough. Doughy, unchallenging, clown-like men seemed good enough. Being surrounded by plodding vapid lifestyles seems good enough, as long as it comes with eye contact and a vague semblance of customer service.

There's an equally valid flip side: The friends I have here are priceless. I'm glad to have a job, and a lovely bike, and a kickass living situation in an endearing neighborhood. I'm young, healthy and don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me.

In this silly thing called life, I'm constantly faced with the dilemma of which reality to use to realign my perspective, how finely to tune my patience and my discontent, exactly what constitutes opening my eyes so I can feel gratitude and what constitutes spin. It's not East Coast vs West Coast, it's Eastern vs Western.

Practice: Sitting still, breathing in until your Buddha belly becomes impressive. Now shed your desires. This is how to achieve happiness. Want creates dissatisfaction. Accept what you have and be grateful, instead of feeling entitled to more and trying to reach for things you don't have.

Versus: How many million times did I want to shake my Kenyan friends in the village and say, "Stop complaining about what you don't have and do something about it. Say out loud what you're thinking and ask for what you want."

There's no right answer to my dilemma. Or rather, the right answer is different every time I ask the question.

There's something missing when I'm not in San Francisco. It's that thing that I know exists, because I remember seeing it somewhere before. Not just seeing, but holding it and breathing it and living by it. Now I've gone for years without tending it, and then it reappears joyful dancing frolicking in the form of the place that feels like home, the place that holds my heart. It's so obvious. But sometimes it comes in other forms. Like in the form of another rich, rare soul revealed to me through uncontrollable laughter, through vocabulary words I never knew, through a conversation full of brilliant ideas I completely disagree with. And then it's all of those things held up to me as a mirror reflecting the beauty of my own soul. Yes, I've seen you before.

It's my lifelong love affair. Like all true love, the feelings ebb and flow. But kind lovers forgive each other for being absent, for taking each other for granted for long periods of time. They do this because their love still lives and breathes and kicks and scratches. It's not going anywhere. They know they've been fools for pretending otherwise.

Back to the complacency. It settled in when I wasn't even looking. It slowly, silently smothered me, stubbed down the embers in my soul's campfire. But I'm still wearing my headlamp. I can see that the s'mores I made awhile ago have cooled too much, the graham crackers are a little dry and uninteresting. Don't worry though. I'll wrap and save them for later. Tonight I'll retire to the tent, bring in my hiking boots so they stay dry, zip out the biting critters. I'll get a lot of sleep, and dream courageous dreams.

I wake up to the sun these days, and it rises early.

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