You sit in a car. The oncoming traffic rushes by as you move in a pack on your side of the highway. You’re advancing in unison, but sectioned off. All the people you are surrounded by, you will never know. All the people you pass, you will never know. Individual people reduced to individual cars. You watch as day turns to night. Individual cars reduced to individual lights. You watch as the glowing white lights approach you, growing exponentially bigger, but they leave nothing more than a trail of elongated amber illuminessence as the taillights vanish into infinite space, into places unknown by you.
You see the cars zoom by — one by one at any instantaneous moment, but in real time the individual cars get lost in a ghostly sea of night light created through an illusion of your mind, between volume and time. You are suspended in this artificial sea created by the continuous blur of car lights. You think about how many of the people have stories that they will grow old with. Stories that will never be told. The narratives of their lives are the lights that build up exponentially and then are inevitably consumed by the darkness of the night. For a moment, they are here, and the next moment, they are gone. You appreciate the fraction of time when the cars are neither approaching nor vanishing. When the lights aren’t visible at all. You realize it is in that fraction of time where the past meets the future and you can experience the now.
You start to think about your day-to-day life. All the people you pass by on the street. Where did everyone come from? Where are they going? What are they thinking about? The people you pass on the street are nothing more than apparitions with a shadow to you. Your eyes meet for an instant, then move away. You wonder why you feel so unphased by the impermanence of a glance. You are not delusional, but you’re starting to see that you have been deceived. You’re out of touch. A flash, you snap back. You’re disoriented. Tides turning. You’re crashing. Hype dying. In this flood of thoughts, you’re lost.
You realize that all those around you are living a life as elaborate as your own. But this is not your normal state of being. You normally fail to notice all the acute details of all the people you encounter. You feel a sense of unfamiliarity. You feel as though you have been blinded by self-interest and self-absorption. As you think of yourself, you begin to think of others. You finally diverge from your line of thinking. Not everything is centered around you. You recall there is a commonality in human experience, that a collective “we” exists. And now you are floating to the surface, gasping for air.
We are soaked in oblivion.
We are drenched in our own perspectives. We allow ourselves to drown in the processes of our minds. Whether that is our conscious decision or not. We allow ourselves to set adrift in this sea, open to so many possibilities. But we lost sight of shore. We fade away as swiftly as the breaking waves retreat. We are immersed in ourselves. We cease to think about everyone else. The “we” is effectively sunk.
We can all find ourselves much too caught up in our own stress. But we have to realize everyone is going through something right now. Maybe vastly different, or to our surprise, maybe vastly similar to ourselves.
We look around at friends. All are very successful people in their own right, but each is struggling with something. Trying to emerge from under a layer of water that is silencing them. Trying to have a moment to take a breath. Trying to rise above it all. We see each of them combating something. We see depression, anxiety, addiction, death of loved ones, discrimination, family and relationship struggles, illness, and academic pressure, among a multitude of other strifes. We see heroes.
We look around at strangers. We cannot understand their depth just by looking at them, but within them lies a complex circuitry. We have to take the time to be aware that they, too, are human. We have to find a way to acknowledge and respect each other for who we are.
We look around at our world. We see each and every person as a living reminder to keep going. We see the spark in their eyes. We see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Nothing is ordinary after all.
We might be able to clearly articulate what we know, but what about that of which we do not know? We are typically disengaged with others’ innermost thoughts, and we become preoccupied with our own thoughts. We often choose the familiar, but we must try to see things differently.
We are re-emerging from our vanishing point on the horizon. Regaining momentum, we notice the individual car lights contained in the blur. We have a newfound sense of hope, because we can share experience. We fight through the waves life throws at us to get to our destinations. We see the sea foam subside. We settle down in contentment. Singular paths collide and become entangled, all connected to a degree. We are part of a network bigger than ourselves.
Dripping in thought, we remembered.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff writers until the spring semester’s regular columnists have been selected.