This evening, I took a different way home than usual. The longer way. Completely out of my way, in fact. There was simply something that wouldn’t allow my feet to trace their accustomed steps. Instead, I threaded my way through the crush of a crowded train station, mounted the cracked sidewalk of an often-used overpass, and paused briefly to contemplate the scaffolds of a new building spiderwebbing their way ever upward. Call it progress.

A mellow glint and tingle of fresher air led me towards the river. The unmistakable scent of sun-warmed wood and silty water wafted towards me like a greeting, a welcome. It opened a deep, aching longing for that place inside me I called home. Keeping the golden light and sparkling eddies to my right, I wandered along the wooden path.

Eager footfalls of children.

A thronging murmur of private conversation.

The jingle jingle tick of dogs on their evening walk.

Raucous laughter bursting from a nearby pub.

My own soles.

And silence.

I sat down on an old bench that was nearly enclosed by a wild growth of vegetation, encouraged to unruliness by the warmth of longed-for spring. Wrapping my arms around the familiar weight of my backpack, I contemplated the river, and waited.

For what? I’m not sure.

For the pieces to fall into place, maybe?

Rippling currents traced veins along the muddy surface, delicate webs broken by the saw-teeth of competing surges of water. Clumps of debris threaded their way along this contained chaos, drawn towards an unknown destination. Gnarled, blackened limbs of entire trees reached tentatively skyward from the dusky depths, providing a perching place for enterprising river birds looking for a lift downstream.

Compared to the infinitely shattered, windswept mirror of the river, the opposite rank of trees looked like a picture, a detailed painting. Moored boats bobbed playfully in the wake of working tugs, contributing to the sense of artifice that imbued the scene. A surreal glow bathed all of the surrounding objects. It reflected in the tears on my cheeks.

Why? Because life, existence, isn’t that illusion. It’s not the precise, ordered lines of the wooden pier beneath my feet. It’s not the mathematical certainties that keep those ships afloat. It’s not the ordered composition of light and shadow that can be put into the box labeled “conventionally beautiful.” It’s more.

It’s the wild abandon of whitecapped currents slicing through turbulent depths. It’s sloppy, random patterns zigzagging, pulling, compressing, and tumbling, forever moving and evolving. It’s the exhilaration that comes from releasing your grip on the shore, and having the courage to find out what lies in the direction of the unknown. It’s murky wavelets relieved by dancing wreaths of impossible light.

But we’re all painting ourselves into that tranquil picture.

I sat there until the sun began to fade, and the cold seeped inward.

I got up.

And walked home.

1 thought on “Illusions

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