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The Center of the Universe

The wind is coming from the East.  We’ve been on the little boat long enough to watch the sky go from light to blue to black. The boat people are anchored up on the edge of the water watching the crowds come in for the concert. The first act is a young guy that sings with a twang and the people applaud as the night settles in.

I lean back against the navy cushion and prop my feet up on the chalky white plexiglass side of the boat near the cooler.  I'm glad I wore a jacket, but I wish I had brought a blanket too. The chill in the air is more than I would’ve expected for this time in the summer, but it’s that wind coming from the bottom of the river that really clinches it. 

There is a beauty to the fact that we are all assembled here on the edge of the water in our little lives on our little boats in our own little stories.  Vignettes stacked against each other on a late summer night. The greater crowds stand close to the stage and huddle up in their collective energy.  They face an artist who is singing lyrics that they probably wrote on the floor of their bathroom or in the passenger side of a car driving down the highway.

The multicolor stage lights reflect off the rippling mirror of the water and the sound reverberates and echoes off of the far bridge and the back of the hospital where my friend's baby was born a exactly 4 years ago.  Time spins out in ripples and the music bouncing off all of these structures sounds like a 2nd ghost band singing through the fabric of time. 

It is in fact a beautiful night.

The kind of night that makes you stop and pay attention. 

Leaning back into the side of the little boat and turning my face to the sky - I watch three white cranes fly overhead. Their feathers are perfect and pristine like a good crisp sheet of printer paper.  It is amazing how we can all be made of atoms and cells and that those cells can become creatures like birds with white feathers that can fly so high overhead and look like they’re not trying.  These cranes are the perfect combination of physics and biology and we take it all for granted because being so continuously amazed and aware would be almost blinding.  It’s not good for us in a chronic sense.  Maybe.

But for right now and sometimes I like to come to this internal place of curiosity and reverence.  Because I want to remember that most things here are an absolute miracle if I take the time to examine them fully.  Holding the moment and the sum of its parts, and then the pieces and then putting it all back together again.  Atoms and cells and birds that take flight and people that assemble to hear music by the water.  

So we meet here at night - and the stars come out to watch us.  The next band comes on, and they sing earnestly. There is a gutsy grit behind the practiced ease of it. They've been on the road for a while. We are close enough to hear the singing, but far enough away to witness the splendor of the collective. 

The nearby bridge, suspended by concrete arches, looks more like framed portals than simple infrastructure.  Each archway beckons in as if to signify that if we were to continue to drift downriver we might slip through to somewhere else entirely.  

A train approaches on that bridge made of portals above the water. 

There’s just three cars up front. 

A red signal light comes on and stops the train In it's tracks. Of course the writer in me revels in the fact that this is not figurative. It's steel and gears and real.

We're just a few miles from the train yard here - maybe 5 miles as the crow flies and it’s a crowded spot. The engineer must have to wait for their turn before bringing it on home to the train yard.

It is easy to forget that within that monumental hunk of metal momentum that there is a human running that engine and steering the course.  


But on this night I watch the engineer step out and walk to the front of the car.  The light of a lantern illuminates the metal grate and railing on the front of the engine car.  The great machine is quiet now.  Sleeping enough that the engineer can hear the music.  They are just another concert goer by the water.  

There is something so connected and intimate about the moment and  I wonder if the center of the universe can shift depending on what is happening here on the ground.

I wonder if maybe the center of the universe is here with us for just a split second or two before moving on to something more weighty -  like a heavy goodbye, or a birth, or a wedding, or a really great party somewhere else.

The engineer stands at the front of the train and then weaves back around the first car and then the other side of the second and back into the third car. I follow the light as it moves into the third car and illuminates it from within.  The light comes back around to the front and waits for the signal light on the bridge to turn green.  The band continues playing as the music drifts out onto the water by the people in the boats and over the people in the crowd.

Out and out forever.

And then, unceremoniously on this cool summer night, the signal light turns green.

The train begins to move.  It was a passing moment, but we held it for a while -  the people on the shore, the people in the boats, the person on the bridge commanding a silent sleeping train.

We were all together for just a little while. 

The train moves and I start counting cars.  It’s a much longer train than I originally guessed.  The cars go on forever.  One and a half songs  play before the train fully passes us by.

 Leaving a blank patch of night where the train used to be. 

Pulling my reliable denim jacket under my head, I pretend that it is a pillow and watch the stars as the music continues and a plane flies overhead.  I wonder if someone is peering out the window and watching us from many feet up.

Maybe they can be a part of this too. 

I hope that someone in their window seat is thinking about us on the ground the way I’m thinking about them on the plane.

The flashing lights on the sides of the wings get smaller and smaller.  The metal bird gains altitude and goes in the direction of that steady east wind.

It is a beautiful night here on the water.

Here at what was once the center of the universe.

Best seats in the house. 

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