Of Many Things

I love public transit. I feel a sense of community on bus rides, even as I am squashed into a seat next to a woman using a garbage bag as luggage. I feel a sense of purpose on trains as they speed through the countryside (or, more likely in my travels, through industrial towns in Connecticut). I even look forward to my commute on the subway. There are, of course, frustrations—endless delays, traffic jams, track work—that sometimes make me wish I had a more efficient method of travel. Enter the zip line.

On days when I am pressed into a subway car, uncomfortably close to a strange, sweaty suit jacket or an ill-conceived tattoo, I close my eyes and imagine an improved New York, rigged with a giant zip line system—cables and pulleys and harnesses that could carry me from block to block, offering gorgeous views of the skyline and direct, open-air travel with ultimate efficiency and the elegance of Spider-Man.

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I realize this is not normal—mostly because my friends tell me so. Buy a car, they say. Instead, I planned a trip to New Hampshire. This offered both relief from the city and a chance to fulfill my dream. Sort of.

My boyfriend and I signed up for a zip line canopy tour in the White Mountains, which means we signed up to slide along a series of cables linked to platforms built high in the trees; to walk across wobbly rope bridges and, on occasion, swing out from these trees and rappel to the ground.

Upon arrival we readily slapped on helmets and slid awkwardly into our harnesses. Still, it was not until I climbed into the van that would carry us up to the mountaintop that I realized that this experience had the potential to be more terrifying than enjoyable.

We were accompanied by guides, of course, who conducted dozens of safety checks. But in the end, this did not erase the fact that I would eventually jump out of a tree and careen across an 830-foot-long cable 165 feet off the ground. There was a gradual build up to that part of the course, the longest in a series of nine lines, and I found myself surprised at how quickly we reached such heights. Still, as I stood at the edge, I was again surprised. It wasn’t the height that overwhelmed me, but rather a feeling I had just before stepping from the platform: the realization that I would be uniquely alone as I hung on and crossed from one side to the other.

As I cut my way through the sky, I took that time to look around me, rather than toward the platform ahead, to take in the green hills, the horses grazing in a field, the low, grey clouds building in the distance. And I felt both removed from it and a part of it all. It was a moment of reflection I don’t always take time for in my everyday life, not to mention my spiritual life.

It is all too easy for me to go through the day without taking that wider perspective, to view the world as something I’m fighting against rather than rooting for. It is easy to hold on to fears that keep me from letting God lead me to where I’m meant to be. Feeling alone can feed these fears, but taking time for deliberate solitude, even for a moment in mid-air, can help to quell them.

As I returned to city life once more, I realized that what I long for on the most hectic of days is not necessarily a way to move above the hustle and bustle, but to move through it without losing my sense of peace. I try to see that the seeming chaos, the crowds, the noise are all just as much a part of the creation I felt so in touch with while sailing between trees. There is value in rising above this fray, but there is also value in entering back into it, in embracing the community of busy streets and rumbling trains and long delays, in moving forward with purpose, in taking small steps and trusting that I will be cared for even while stepping off what looks, to me, like an edge.

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5 years 3 months ago
O.K., I sort of agree that its easy to view the world as something I'm fighting against rather than rooting for. Why? Could it be, because more and more in our "trans human age" where electronic devises are ruling us and where we are becoming a more and more walled-in society, with material, social, economic and to a degree even religious barriers generate that imprisoned reality?  Not sure - just musing.
WILLIAM EDELEN
5 years 3 months ago
Just need to correct spelling on the home page, "too" vs. "to." (Pet peeve.)
Thomas Farrell
5 years 3 months ago

In his book FIGHTING FOR LIFE: CONTEST, SEXUALITY, AND CONSCIOUSNESS (Cornell University Press, 1981), the published version of his 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University, the American Jesuit cultural historian Walter J. Ong (1912-2003) of St. Louis University discusses the sense of being up against something, which he styles as adverativeness.

The spirit of adversativeness has a long history in Western culture. Ong himself has traced the highlights of this history of adversativeness in his history of dialectic (also known as logic) and rhetoric in his book RAMUS, METHOD, AND THE DECAY OF DIALOGUE: FROM THE ART OF DISCOURSE TO THE ART OF REASON (Harvard University Press, 1958) and elsewhere.

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