This was maybe the best piece of advice I’ve ever received. It was offered by my sister, Gwyneth, who’d grown frustrated with me on a hike, long ago, through Yosemite National Park.
I was scrambling to keep up with her and my brother. Heaving for air, it was all I could do to keep an eye on the path and ensure that, along with bringing up the rear by a generous distance, I did not also misstep and break my ankle.
Why had I come all this way, she wanted to know, if all I was going to do was watch my feet?
It was a good question.
She didn’t know then, and I didn’t know then, that this small suggestion would become a staple through my life—to always take a moment to look up, to look for something. Pay attention on that commute you take every goddamn day. Ask one of your customers an unexpected question, if you can stomach it.
Chances are, every time you look closer, and with curiosity (even with the mundane stuff) you’ll see something new, something fascinating. You might even (gasp!) learn something.
I’ve been riding my bike under this tangle of forbidding freeway overpasses for almost eleven years. This particular spot, at the base of a steep hill on Interstate, does not lend to rubbernecking: going downhill, I’m often tucked into a bleary-eyed charge for that green light. While uphill is a breathless slog over the pedals for a cruel, steep climb.
Still, every time, I try to sneak a peek, because these overpasses are marvelous structures. Utilitarian, and also, soaring. Somehow, somebody was able to take these unfathomably heavy structures, and make them fly.
It is hard to not feel puny, riding under these overpasses. They are a stark reminder, twice daily, how small and insignificant I am, how crushable. Even a tiny earthquake could send them crumbling down on me and I would be squashed, in an instant. But, not just squashed. I would be reduced to a smear, an afterthought so completely obliterated, I might not have existed at all.