Metro, Column

Seeing World Wonders on a Familiar Path

Deep down, I want to be an explorer—someone driven by a deep inner restlessness to see new corners of the world, or even just a new part of the city. I have romantic ideas of chance encounters, and sights so strangely beautiful that delicate tears will form in the corners of my eyes and slowly trickle down my cheeks.    

But if you spent some time observing me, tracking my movements and actions like the subject of a bizarre scientific experiment, this desire would probably shock you. It might even seem like a lie. Instead of spending my days roaming around and discovering unknown wonders, they all look remarkably the same. I walk the same path to my classes, sometimes considering what might happen if I walked a different way, one that I’ve heard was nicer. Ultimately, sometimes after standing at a corner for a few moments of agonizing indecision, I decide better not, maybe another day. You know the route you’re taking, so why change it?      

Even this early into the semester, I’ve settled into a routine. This is how long I spend in the library, this is when I do for a run, this is when I go grocery shopping, when I go to yoga, when I do my laundry, when I can finally go back to the apartment. When outside forces make me alter my plans, I can already feel a twinge of anxious irritation, a feeling that I know will get stronger as the semester goes on and I nestle even more deeply into the schedule that I’ve built. Maybe it’s just that I’m not very good at spontaneity, but all I know is that I’m starting to get exasperated every night where I’m not in my pajamas by 8:30 p.m.

All in all, this habitual tendency probably isn’t so unusual. For many, routines are the rope on which they can pull themselves through the day, stringing each one along until they’ve made it through the week. But what I am often shocked by, especially considering the static nature of my habits, it just how oblivious I can be. For someone who runs along the exact same path, walks along the exact same roads, it can take me days—weeks—to notice something that’s probably been there all along. Sometimes I’ll finally see something, maybe an interestingly deformed road sign or patch of colorful graffiti, and it feels strangely familiar. Perhaps it’s just my brain taking its time, storing details of the world around me for the moment when they’re most useful. Unfortunately, that’s probably just me grasping desperately for excuses.

You might think that this oblivious tendency would fade when I head downtown. In any city, Boston included, the details of the world around you shift constantly, many winking out of sight altogether if you don’t notice them in first passing. Taking note of your surroundings becomes a now or never, high-stakes game of eye-spy, a game that I obviously suck at.

I’ll get off the T at my usual spot, and worm my way back aboveground, plodding down the street that I always take to one of about five possible destinations (at least three of them involve food). I’ll weave down the sidewalk, past the stores or empty windows that haven’t changed (I think), and I stare at the people moving by in their interesting outfits. (See? I’m trying quite hard to notice things.) Today’s highlight: an aging couple fully decked out in punk-goth gear, the man sporting a leather vest, shakily applied eyeliner, and multiple piercings, and the woman outfitter in a black tutu of torn lace paired with torn fishnets and a slash of dark-blue lipstick.

The couple passes, and my eyes move on to a group of teenagers, their extreme wealth obvious from the sheer number of designer brands that they’ve managed to cram onto their bodies. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I see a man across the street standing just to the right of Sonsie, a restaurant that I’ve passed countless times.

He isn’t wearing a shirt, just a pair of frayed jean shorts help up by a simple leather belt. His hair is long and blondish, pulled into a flyaway low ponytail at the nape of his neck. His skin is the shiny, tanned color of someone who spent many hours in the summer sun. His back is to me, and he faces an easel, considering it with his head tilted slightly to the right. Chalk in hand he darts back toward the easel, adding another stroke to what looks like the silhouette of woman rendered in sandy, ochre color.

He seems familiar, and I realize that I’ve seen him before without actually noticing him. He paints there quite often, I think, so maybe it’s part of his routine. He must go to the same spot, looking at the same patch of sidewalk, watching the world and people change around him. Somehow, I find the thought comforting.

Perhaps, like me, he finds routine ruling his existence, but he must be able to find new wonders, new inspiration for his art, with each day that he returns to his spot. So maybe my obliviousness isn’t so bad. It’s just a way of saving the details around me for later, spacing them out so that each journey down the same path reveals something new. If I’m lucky, one day I’ll be able to see the familiar world around me the man does: a place where, without even changing my routine, there are sights so beautiful they bring tears to my eyes.

Featured Image by Madeleine D’Angelo / Heights Editor

September 21, 2017