May 19, 2017
I get a feeling whenever I travel, and I can’t really place it, but it persists no matter where I go or how often I’ve been somewhere (though it definitely manifests more the first time I add a new destination). It’s this feeling as if everything is so intrinsically flush with meaning, and that one can reach out and pull that towards your being, grab it and clench it to your chest; that you can consume an entire city merely by that desire to understand it. To lie content, nestled in the warm embrace of one’s environs.
I think the first time this possessed me was traveling to Saskatoon for a coding competition when I was in grade ten. Two of the classmates in the room had already fallen asleep; the other was playing Diablo on a laptop. For some reason though, I couldn’t sleep; the unremitting pressure of the excitement I felt, of the newness of that place and being, of the unease of that expanse of lights glittering beneath me — it all impacted me in some incredibly hard to describe way. I was young, and the future seemed so confusing and foreign, yet comforting in its complexity, its potential. I wasn’t at all sure what I should be, or even wanted to be, or even why I might want to be anything. At the same time, however, that limitless void of unknowing energised me; it pushed me to want to find that place I may eventually end up.
This emotion I’m very poorly attempting to describe hits me quite often when I’m about to land in a city, and I’m excited or awake enough to bother looking out the window. Once you’re about to land somewhere, the bleakness of those hours in the sky gives way to an eventual compromise; barren but still slightly populated city space. Very soon thereafter, that space becomes more dense, and the becomes suburbs; then, urban areas — where once the extent of your vision might have had a few dozen people occupying it, a single gaze now comprises the day-to-day environment of literally thousands — if not millions — of people. You near the airport, and that soup swallows you whole.
In my recent life I’ve looked out across much brighter and greater cityscapes than the one offered by Saskatoon. And it saddens me to some degree that I encounter this feeling far less often than I’d like to admit. Maybe I’ve just successfully transitioned from a kid from a small town into a bonafide city dweller, I’m really not sure. But I do know for certain, the meaning that I sculpt out for myself from this particular era of human history is inherently linked to these colossal beasts in which we lurk, in whose bellies we build all the great buildings and think all the great thinkings and believe all the greatest beliefs. Even if we can’t ever understand it all, or even make sense of the tiniest fragment, so much of what it means to be alive has to do with participating in this collective exertion we find ourselves inevitably striving for.