I’m sitting 20 feet away from one of the best string quartets in the world, listening to them practice, and banter, and practice, when they mention hocket—”Does anyone know what a hocket is?” Yes, I think—I vaguely remember learning about that 20 years ago, when my face was as young and fresh as the other faces in the room. “It’s a Harry Potter term,” the violinist says, smiling.
Night falls, and the rushing white noise of the freeway drifts in through the window of the corner suite in a breezy, Spanish-style hotel in San Clemente. Morning breaks, and the ocean calls out, crashing waves surrounded by a clear blue rain-washed sky. Between the freeway and the ocean, a sunny, unassuming sidewalk café delivers an epic breakfast sandwich—crispy bacon, sourdough, and cheese—possibly the best of its kind.
Steam rises from a cast iron pot, and the light from the stove shifts and dances on the plumes as they rise, sending the homey smells of a simple meal out into the kitchen. A long time ago, a little girl looked up from her book and watched the shining dust swirling in the air, the particles reflecting light from the window, in a dance that seemed it would never end. Times change, times change, and we can’t go back (we can’t go back, we can’t go back…)
I listened to an episode of Reply All today. For reasons that ultimately aren’t that important, PJ and Alex decided to take calls from the public for 48 hours straight. As the hours wear on, it starts to feel unreal—a delirious haze of half-consciousness. Words, words, words, misty and ephemeral, going on and on and on. The ordinary openings, “hello”, “hey”, “how are you”, usually polite and banal, feel like an increasingly violent assault when fired off by an endless stream of strangers, a burden that becomes heavier and heavier—until you can hear the strain and desperation in these usually cheerful and snappy voices.
It’s something I feel a little bit every day, in every single one of these kinds of surface interactions, a heaviness. Only now, it’s been multiplied and magnified by this strange experiment, to the point where everyone else can feel it too. A few minutes of silence, provided by a listener who called in just to put her phone on mute for them, is a welcome relief. A few people call in and share real stories, moments from their real lives—these are also a welcome relief. The truth in their words, emotion without affectation, cuts right through the noise. Their voices are like churchbells ringing out over a valley of fog.
And now, I’m sitting at work, and I’m listening to a new album by a band called Lucius. I’ve never heard of them before today. But they sing out: “Don’t want to talk to you today / don’t want to play the games you wanna play.” Another song starts out “Maybe I’ll drive myself to madness… spinning in circles / don’t have it figured out just yet.” Maybe it’s coincidence and it only feels related. I’m open to the idea of confirmation bias. But there’s something about it that feels connected and comforting.
I find myself longing for a room with warm but gentle lighting—filament lights, strings of twinkle lights, a fireplace maybe—where I can sit and be with the people I care about most for a few hours. I want to cast a magic spell—a spell that makes it so that my words don’t feel all awkward and my voice doesn’t sound strange to me after it leaves my throat. A spell that creates a moment of understanding. Or maybe it would be enough to have a moment of silence, where we can sit together and appreciate the absurdity of it all. Or maybe we drive to the ocean and listen to the waves for a while.
The ocean doesn’t say “hi”, “hello”, “how are you”. It says “Shhhhhh. Shhhhhhh.”
A week ago, I went to Wendy’s. I ordered a healthy salad and a diet Coke, like a good girl, but then, at the last second, my resolve to be healthy wavered just a tiny little bit, and I asked them to add on a 4-piece spicy chicken nuggets. And some ketchup, please. I was super excited about getting these spicy chicken nuggets, since I don’t always indulge… and the anticipation grew as I waited in line. But when I drove away and looked in my bag, I realized: There were only three spicy chicken nuggets. One nugget was missing. I would only be able to enjoy seventy-five percent of the spicy goodness that I had been looking forward to.
On any given day, I find myself spending a fair amount of time thinking about people who are suffering in the world. I think about refugees, about people in Syria, poor children and cancer patients. I feel overwhelmingly grateful for my life. I know I didn’t do anything to deserve it and I know it could end at any moment. I don’t have anything to complain about, truly.
But I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t the slightest bit disappointed to see that I only had three chicken nuggets. “Ah, well,” I thought. I ate my three spicy chicken nuggets with extra ketchup (I love ketchup), and I moved on with my life.
Three days later, I went to Wendy’s again. I went through the drive-thru, and once again, I ordered spicy chicken nuggets along with my meal. I need to be careful. I really can’t afford to have this become a habit—they’re not amazingly healthy and let’s face it, they’re orange. But they’re just so good. Anyway, as I was pulling away from the drive-thru this time, I saw that there were five. FIVE! Five chicken nuggets, when I had only been expecting four! Balance was restored in that moment, suddenly and unexpectedly. And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel better about my life, about the world, and about the path forward into an uncertain future.