It's easy to take the simple things for granted. We tell ourselves that life is moving too fast to give them another thought. We are always thinking about what comes next. We can't appreciate what's directly in front of us because we are focused on what's in our future. Sometimes you need to snap back to present and just savor the fact that you are alive. That's what the Potomac River does for me.
I took the Potomac River for granted at one point. I rode by the river every day and never gave it a second glance. I was always distracted, never in the present. But that changed one day.
A tangle of thoughts was running rampant inside my head.
I have a lot of self-destructive tendencies. I find it's not that hard to convince yourself that life isn't worth living if nothing is there to put it in perspective.
My mind constantly conjures up different scenarios and follows them to their ultimate conclusion: anguish. I needed something to pull myself out of my mental quagmire.
All I had to do was turn my head and look. And I mean really look. Not a passing glance but rather a gaze of intent. That's when it hit me. It only lasted a minute or so but I made that moment feel like an eternity.
My distractions of the day, no matter how significant they seemed moments ago, faded away. A feeling of evanescence washed over me, almost as if the water itself had cleansed me.
I've developed a routine now. Whenever I get on the bus, I orient myself to get the best view of the river. If I'm going to Foggy Bottom, I'll sit on the right. If I'm going back to the Mount Vernon Campus, I'll sit on the left. I'll try to sit in a seat that allows me to prop my arm against the window, and rest my cheek against my palm.
I've observed the Potomac in its many displays.
I've observed it during a clear day when the sky is devoid of clouds, and the sun radiates a far-reaching glow upon the shimmering ripples below. I can't help but envy the gulls as they glide along the surface.
I've observed it during the rain when I have to wipe the fogged glass to get a better view. I squint through the gloom, watching the rain pummel the surface, and then the river rises along the bank as if in defiance of the harsh storm. As it fades from view, I let my eyes trace the water droplets trickling down the window.
I've observed it during snowfall when the sheets of white obscure my view to the point where I can only make out a faint outline.
I've observed it during twilight when the sky is ablaze with streaks of orange, yellow, and pink as the blue begins to fade to grey.
Last of all, I've observed it during the night, when the moon is swathed in a grey veil. The row of lights running along the edge of the bridge provides a faint gleam to the obsidian water below.
It's hard to tear away my eyes from the river now. It's become a place of solace. The moment it comes into view, I'll pause whatever I'm doing. I turn up the music and let my eyes drift across the waterfront. A smile always creeps across my face. I gain a renewed sense of life.
Even on my runs, I set aside time to take in the river. I'll run across the bridge toward Arlington and then walk back, giving myself time to look out over either side of the bridge. I don't feel in a rush for once. I just let the cool air brush against my face. Sometimes my eyes begin to water. Let's just say it's not always because of the wind.
I chase surreal moments. The kind of moments you can't possibly plan for or predict. Moments where you don't want to be anywhere else. The ones that ground your sense of being. They make life truly exceptional.
Though I crave these moments, they are hard to come by. You can't force them. Their very nature does not allow it. But when I'm near the river, these moments just seem to come naturally.
I remember biking around DC when I caught sight of the Potomac. Naturally, I couldn't resist trying to get a better view. I pulled up along the river bank, startling a lone gull before dismounting. I took a few steps until I reached the edge of the water. The sun shone brilliantly in the center of the horizon.
A beam of light stretched across the water toward me, almost like a pathway to the other side of the river. I felt an urge to walk forward. I let one-foot dangle over the water, lowering it slowly to reach the glittering water below. I debated briefly whether I could walk on water. Though it sounds ridiculous, anything felt possible. Snapping back to reality, I brought my foot back up and scanned the vast blue expanse before me.
Eventually, the wind began to buffet against my left cheek, as if directing me to look right. I turned my head. A couple was walking along the bike path. They paused beneath a tree for a moment and locked eyes. Smiling, the man leaned in and whispered something in the woman's ear. As she giggled, they began to kiss softly.
While I looked on with a smile of my own, I couldn't help but wonder if there was someone else out there in the world willing to share this moment with me.