In the spaces between

Author’s Note: The first thing that happens during each morning’s commute is a walk of about a mile. I’ve come to love these walks, rain or shine or inky black, for the reflective time with which they bless me.

Between me and the Gateway Transit Center each morning are obstacles large and small – the last few deep warm hypnagogic breaths of slumber, the sum of human motivation and desire coupled with the American Work Ethic, the reluctance to leave her side, a steadfast tree in my front yard. Obstacles, yes, to be overcome on the first leg of the long journey to work each day via foot and train and bus.

The tree is ripe with the promising buds of spring, and its top branches are losing their grip on a fat full yellow moon slung low in the early morning sky. The moon must be a pretty desirable prize, as the tree seems to really be trying, clawing at the last buttery edge, fighting a losing battle but resolute in its desire to not let go. I descend the two slick steps from the front stoop and stride across the unmown grass of my front lawn, on a path to intersect the moon should it fall low enough to touch the horizon. Like the tree, I’m destined to fail. Like the tree, I’m resolute, and I shall make the attempt no matter how predestined the outcome. This is what I do.

There is a squirrel who greets me most mornings. I like to entertain the notion that it’s the same squirrel and that he has somehow been given the honor of guiding me to Oregon street from 108th. I envision a tiny doorman’s costume, maybe a bejeweled walking stick, toothpick-small, and a monocle. I bow to the squirrel, almost imperceptibly, but squirrels are social creatures and I know that I can see him bow back. Together we share admiration for the tree’s attempt to corral the impossible moon. I bid him adieu. There are places for me to be, and I’ve shared as much of my morning with the squirrel guide as I can. I wish good health to him and to his family and I continue toward the transit center and my awaiting train.

These mornings, I can see my exhalations hanging for a moment in front of me before they dissipate. This is water, and carbon dioxide, and a thousand other things, and it’s a small miracle that an immutable law of physics can somehow render visible something so fleeting. How is breath not a miracle on any morning, though? How can we be so lucky as to possess within us a machine that is wonderful enough to pull life from the air around us? Some morning I’ll leave the house early, and I’ll stand with the squirrel, and together we’ll ponder this, and discuss the nature of true love in full knowledge that there can’t be an answer to such questions. Not today, though. I have a train to catch.

Oregon street, 107th, Pacific avenue. The asphalt ribbon of 102nd awaits, stretching unbroken from the southeast almost to the Columbia river. It’s the recent recipient of beautification and fresh new pedestrian features. Street lamps, old style, with humming chemical bulbs that poorly mimic the color of this morning’s moon, stronger, harsher, without comfort. No cars at this time of day, as the only people up are the early commuters and the potato chip delivery guy I always see. We’re on the same schedule, he and I, and he pulls out of the driveway and gives me a nod. I wonder if he has a squirrel in his neighborhood who sees him to his car before he climbs into his car, and I wonder if he cares. For one minute, the potato-chip-guy’s imagined squirrel is my muse. What a sweet and complicated world it is.

Once I leave the tree-lined confines of my Lorene Park neighborhood, I’m swallowed in an endless sea of concrete. 102nd gives way to the Gateway Shopping Center parking lot, and for a while I feel as I once felt in a Greyhound bus ponderously cutting across west Texas, hours piled on hours piled on hours, no relief, no change. I feel as you must have felt, flying toward me, toward the unknown, miles falling away between old life and new. The parking lot never ends until it ends, and I’m nearly at the train station, and I’m a little sad that the walk is almost over, and I’m a little glad.

Here’s where you live. You live in that moment between inhale and exhale, in that heartbeat, in that acknowledgement of breath and bone. You live in the tree that grasps at the full moon. You live in a river of concrete. You live wherever your gaze takes you, to the last sideways crescent sliver of moon as it dips below the horizon line, to the rain-slicked train platform that serves to take me farther from you as you sleep, to the indigo sky that warms as the sun slowly climbs up behind you. You live in every step I take. You live forever in every fold of my clothing, under every fingernail, in each laugh line that I’ve earned. I take you with me on my morning walk to the train station, and I bring you back, and then I find you alive and real in my warm home, and I know what real happiness is. And in the morning, as the squirrel steps out to find me and guide me to Oregon street, you live in me again.

About Dr. Jeff

Dr. Jeff, in real life Dr. Jeff Guardalabene, is a Portland-area psychologist, who logs 300-plus miles on TriMet each week. He often live-tweets his commute to avoid intellectual stimulation. He lives with his wife and their five children and blogs about psychology issues at Follow @Doctor_Jeff on Twitter.
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