In the midst of going about your day, the sweet smell of honeysuckles unexpectedly tickles your nose. There are train tracks to your right and a highway just beyond. Trash collects against the curb. It is the last place you would expect to close your eyes and breathe in the delicate scent of summertime. This gritty city street you've traversed a hundred times before never captivated you in this way.
Stopped at a red light, you notice the sun dipping closer to the horizon. Its glow paints the sky an orange-pink hue, a blend of colors you could never capture with words or even a paint and brush. When traffic starts moving, you follow a safe distance behind the car in front of you. You drive slowly to leave space and time to admire the fading sunset.
"Did you see it? I asked Leslie, Olivia and Anders as they descended the stairs from the telescope, an ancient tube of metal pointing up toward the starry sky.
"Yup," Leslie said as she passed me.
When it was my turn, I grasped the handrail of the stairs and climbed to the top. I crouched down and pressed my right eye against the warmed metal, the surface heated by the onlookers who came before me. There, set against a perfectly black background, was Saturn. It was nothing more than a white orb with a white halo across the middle.
"It doesn't seem real. Like whiteout on a black page," I said as we made our way downstairs to the planetarium.
It really did. But it also reminded me that, in the over all scheme of things, we're pretty tiny creatures inhabiting a planet that is part of something much greater. There, standing on the rooftop of the Franklin Institute, I was forced to hit pause and appreciate the moment.
"You've heard from him, haven't you?" my coworker asked when she passed my desk en route to the water cooler.
"Actually, I had totally forgotten about him."
Not even a thought of that man had crossed my mind in the last few weeks, months. I was too busy sorting out a social calendar to notice his absence. I was too consumed with plotting out my next step professionally to crave his presence.
For a second, I was just as startled by this revelation as my coworker was. Together we paused.
"He usually surfaces about now. Proposes you meet him in DC," she said, breaking the silence.
"Who knows," I replied, not even hinting that it was a genuine inquiry.
For the first time in many, many years, I have felt ready to explore things with someone else, confident that even if Alaska did resurface, I'd have no interest. All this time, I never stepped into something new because I feared I'd be too willing to return to the old. I just don't have it in me to partake in something where I know I could never give one hundred percent.
Later that night, while sitting at my laptop with music playing softly in the background, I started to write. The idea that excited but escaped me earlier returned. After five pages, I sat back in my chair. I pressed my spine into the woven rattan and raised my arms above my head to stretch my shoulders. And that's when I realized "Fake Empire" was playing. It is a song that always takes my breath away. Like the honeysuckles and sunset, the realization I had moved on from an unsatisfying past, I couldn't help but take a few seconds and pause to appreciate the moment.