Life Imitates Art

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My high school prom theme was “Breakaway” by Art Garfunkel. I remember a lot of friends found it cynical, and maybe a bit uncool for the times. We had just snuck past disco and Manilow, so we were really hoping for something edgy, but we ended up with a non-Simon Garfunkel. In fact I might have been the only one who couldn’t get the song out of my head, not in a “tune won’t go away” fashion, but the sentiment. It captured exactly what I was feeling at the time.

I watch the distant lights on the runway, Disappear into the evening sky

Well, yeah. Everyone was thinking about partying at the beach and my mind was already out of there. I was always a bit strange. Truly. I was the one you find in every crowd that kept thinking I should be somewhere else. Any song or poem or movie or work of art or conversation which steered toward distant places and beyond the horizon instantly attached themselves to my psyche.

Even then I could feel time like drips of water on the back of my neck.

It’s not the sun you’re trying to find; Something else is on your mind. You need a little space and time to break away

I love that line.

I took a gap year. It wasn’t called a gap year back then; it was called the not-go-to-college-and-be-lazy-for-a-year year. I just figured sometime during those twelve months before I headed to the hills of western New York for college, something amazing would fall in my lap. I kept thinking if I kept looking around I’d find something that would have changed everything. So I looked around. Nothing changed.

You ever feel like you’re just one thought away from exactly what you want to say? That was what that whole year felt like. Like I was onto something but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. A year passed and one of my friends headed to Nashville, another pursued local media, another married and had a child, another started sliding away. I left.

Break away, fly across your ocean. Break away, time has come for you. Break away, fly across your ocean. Break away, time has come…

New York. Arizona. Mexico. New England. Pennsylvania. Virginia. A bunch of foreign lands.

…and I’m back. Got a job teaching at the local college none of us ever wanted to attend to begin with. I broke away several dozen times through the years since then to places all over the world, but I kept coming back.

Turns out there were a few things from high school I’m glad I left behind, a few I wish I had never abandoned, and one or two I’m glad I took with me, the most important being that sense of standing on that edge, the sense of leaning forward and jumping off, the sense of possibility and hope. When I returned all those years later all those years ago  I discovered I wasn’t like any of the people I knew in high school save two, both of whom had also left. It isn’t the “leaving” that connects us, or even the coming back; it is the idea that we are still trying to break away from complacency, from predictability and lack of passion. I still don’t feel like I’ve done it, so I keep thinking it is time for me…

To awaken in another country. Greet the morning under foreign skies

And then it hit me. It is the “looking” that I was after. It was the pursuit of what’s next that I wanted to pursue, not some place or event or career—but the actual act of simply looking around, as if somewhere back in 1960 God said, “Hey I’m just going to drop you off here for a while so you can check everything out” and simply not sitting around would be my measure of success.

So this morning I was on the pier at the oceanfront. It was foggy and I couldn’t see beyond where the surf was breaking. I stared at the fog for quite some time, the mist, and how it beautifully shrouded the fishermen on the pier, the workers setting up for an event on the beach, the sculptures up and down the boardwalk. I watched a young boy try and bait his hook, and I talked to an old man about how the selection of fish has changed through the decades. I watched a lone surfer let lesser waves roll by. At some point I thought about what it was like a bit further out to sea. It was brighter beyond the fog and I knew that out on the horizon the sun was inevitably pushing through, we just couldn’t see it. I turned and watched walkers and joggers pause at the rail waiting for the sun to come through and I turned back and had this overwhelming desire to borrow the man’s surfboard and push out beyond the fog and go looking for the sun. I thought how cool it must be for the fishing boats already out past the shelf searching the deep waters to be able to feel the sun on their faces, pulling in their catch while gulls dive nearby, and back on shore people wait for that morning light to come to them.

And, of course, like some trite metaphor just waiting to pounce, I stood at the end of the pier and realized: It’s not the sun I’m trying to find, it’s something else that’s on my mind. I just need a little space and time to breakaway.


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