A Journey of a Different Kind
From the looks of the massive cardboard box resting upright in my parking spot, one of the neighbors must have purchased a brand spanking new fridge. “Good for them,” I mutter sarcastically, pulling to an abrupt stop while figuring how many wasted minutes this is going to add to my evening commute. Someone gets a new fridge and then absent-mindedly leaves the empty carrying case in my space. Nice.
Getting out of my truck, I walk over to the box and contemplate the best way to move it. From a foot away, it appears monstrous and in the headlights, puts off an alien glow. Looking heavenward, I bear hug the box in the middle. Pressing my face against the side, I hurriedly shuffle it out of the way. After a tough day at work, I don’t feel much like being hassled with someone else’s trash.
Box moved. Truck parked. Lights off. I grab my backpack from the rear seat and lock the doors with the clicker. Ambling toward the house still muttering about the cardboard thing, I almost crash into one of the neighbors, a friendly, mustachioed Nicaraguan named Luis. He’s standing in the dark looking up at the sky.
“Hola, amigo, como estas? Hard day at work?” he asks, still facing upward.
“Si, un dia duro, but it’s good to have a job, I guess,” I say. “And it’s good to be home,” I add, walking away without showing much interest in his peculiar posture.
“Tu has visto el planeta Mars?” he questions, pointing up into the white-freckled sky. “Incredible, it’s very close just now, closer than ever,” referring to the Red Planet’s abnormal nearness to Earth.
“Yeah, Luis, I saw it last week. Looks a lot like every other star up there, only a little off-colored,” I said, and continue on into my apartment.
Truth is, I had heard all the hubbub about the marvel of the Martian close encounter a couple of weeks before. Like Luis now, I had taken notice to check things out, only to be extremely disappointed by what I saw.
It was a star – just a star, plain and simple, one that maybe, MAYBE had a slight red tint to it. At the time, it didn’t seem like much to write home about. I was certain it hasn’t changed since then.
As I unlock the front door, a melodic noise comes unexpectedly from the apartment next door. Before I get a fix on it, the sound stops, but within seconds, it repeats itself innocently, nonchalantly, without pretense or effort. A smile spreads slowly across my face, replacing the scowl that I’d brought home from the office.
The laugh of a child radiates through the relative stillness of the night air. I push open the door, shaking my head and feeling a little less hassled. Childhood – such a simple, pure and under-appreciated time.
Still smiling, I drop my bag and my body down onto the floor. In the semi-dark, I sit Indian style in front of my five-year-old laptop, listening to a kid now giggling hysterically next door.
Out of this world – the mental and emotional evolution that has occurred from the instant I saw that box out back until now. From stressed out grown-up walking in a world of misery to childlike dreamer lost happily in thought ï¿½ all in a matter of minutes. The cosmic powers of the laughter of a child.
It was Proust, I think, who wrote of paradise lost, and how it truly is the only real paradise. Yes, that’s childhood – a paradise lost, an innocence accidentally left waiting in the schoolyard in sixth or seventh grade. But does it have to be?
There are still wonders to behold, happiness happening all around us, even for those who are semi grown up and super stressed out. We just have to remember how to notice them. In another of his moments of brilliance, Proust said that “the real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Yes, new eyes would help, or perhaps even better, the “newer” eyes that we all once had as a child. Is it possible to get back there again, if only for a short psychological sojourn?
In the light of the computer screen, I think back to the comments of my neighbor, Luis, as he stared contentedly up at the Red Planet. “Incredible,” he had said. Incredible. Yes, from the right perspective, and with the right amount of imagination, seeing another planet ï¿½ especially Mars ï¿½ as close as it’ll ever get to us in some 60,000 years, that’s a rarity worth taking a second look at.
Physically stationary for the first time all day, my mind begins to wander. I consider heading back outside to take another look at the Milky Way’s sparkling thruway, to give Mars another shot, but I hesitate. Who needs reality at a time like this?
With the resonance of a child’s laughter as my fuel and a new pair of eyes as my guide, I blast off on a journey deep into space (bear with me here, you who scoff at the notion of civilian space travel). Gravity no longer contains me, nor do the laws of reality. In my rectangular-shaped spacecraft, I zoom confidently past Cassiopeia, Ursula Minor, then weave the stars of Orion’s Belt before pulling up short in front of a massive glowing ball of reddish dust. The handling of my ship, it is impressive. And from this proximity, so is Mars. I am Neil Armstrong, I am Christopher Columbus, I am Captain James T. Kirk ï¿½ fearless, I boldly go where no person has dared go before.
Without warning, from a place I long ago forgot existed, comes the laugh of a carefree kid. It’s crazy, if not a little funny, the fact that I’ve traveled all these millions of light years in a matter of seconds. The power of modern rocketry, the wonders of advanced engineering ï¿½ who would have thought all this possible, this marvel of space travel, and all in the confines of a refrigerator-sized cardboard box not long ago discarded by someone who thought it was plain old trash. Incredible.
As I slow my vessel to get a better look at an impact crater on one of Mars’ two moons, it hits me – childhood, like Mars, maybe isn’t so far away after all.