Mile Marker 4450:
They say you can't go back, but really you can.
It's just not the same.
Take Chicago. Or more specifically, a bike path in Chicago.
We're going to visit Shelley's tree.
It's not hard to find. Take the Barry Street underpass. Follow the bike path south. Walk past the Belmont sign and a grove of baby trees. Count five street lights.
Then there it is.
It's willowy and tall. Young but sturdy. Independent and free. Marked with a pink ribbon from the Chicago Park District, its branches reach upward toward the sky. Its leaves show the earliest hints of red and gold.
|It reminds me of Shelley!|
With Shelley gone, Chicago is not the same for me. It's not quite as comfortable, not quite as familiar. Yet standing here under her tree, I feel a touch of that goodness return.
|So I do!|
I can even give her a hug.
Mile Marker 4457:
A dorm room at Northwestern.
On the south side of campus, we come to our old dorm. There's a kid walking in. We follow him.
"Hey! Can you hold the door for us? We used to live here 25 years ago!"
He turns around. We're giggling like freshmen.
He smiles and nods, placing his electronic key on the sensor. His name is Dylan, and he lives on the first floor, but he's nice enough to walk us all the way up to the third. (You need a key card to enter there too.)
"If you lose your key card, it costs $100," Dylan says.
We tell him that when we lived here, lockouts were $5.00. And we thought that was outrageous!
The building feels small, like when you go back to visit your elementary school. If I spread my arms, I can touch both walls of the hallway. The giant windows are no bigger than dormers. And the walls we covered in posters don't look large enough to hold them anymore.
We pose in front of Room 308...
...and Dylan snaps a photo.
Just then, a boy walks out of the bathroom in a towel. "Excuse me," he says. "That's my room."
Right. It's not our room anymore.
Keats and I laugh all the way down the stairs. Good thing you don't need a key card to get out!
An intersection in Philadelphia.
What did you expect? It's November.
If you look close enough, blacktop isn’t just blacktop. It’s a blur of light and dark like an ocean seen from the sky. There's nothing black and white about it. It's all shades of gray.
This street has wounds too.
I stand and watch for a while. Cars rush by. Bikers too, well-dressed with backpacks and saddlebags. Not one is wearing a helmet.
If I stand here long enough (which I do), a garbage truck rumbles past. Then a tractor trailer. Its wheels are massive, as high as my shoulders if I stand close enough (which I don't).
I find a fallen leaf in the street at the exact place I fell. One half is flattened and stuck to the ground, but the other half ripples lightly in the wind. It's a symbol, I think. It reminds me of me.
Everything here reminds me of me.
Life goes on here. That always surprises me. In my mind and heart, this corner stays frozen in time.
In a few hours, it will be November 9th, my "Alive Day."
I want to say something significant, share some deep thoughts about what it means to have another year on this earth. I want to talk about where I'm going. But I can't stop thinking about these places I've been.
How many times did I bike along the Chicago lakefront with Shelley?
Walk up those dorm stairs with Keats?
Pedal through that intersection on my Trek mountain bike, ready for the workday ahead?
Why do I keep going back?
Every year on this date, my life gets whittled down to one place -- one moment -- where the rest becomes history. There's this urgency, this sense that time is running out, and this knowledge that my old life will end when the clock strikes seven tomorrow morning.
I don't know why it keeps happening. But I do know this,
You can go back to a place time after time, but you can't go back in time. You just have to go forward.
With any luck, tomorrow will be just a normal Wednesday. (I know I'm not the only one anticipating November 9th this year!)
So fasten your helmet. Load up your saddlebags.
We'll need all the strength and hope we can carry.