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Numbly, I look down to the floor when I should be looking up. Looking for magnetic brightness. Looking for hope. Looking for a means to free myself from my tie to a centripetal lifestyle, centered about a routine of sameness. As sidewalk brushes past my peripheral vision, I note how even my shoelaces bounce in a pattern caused by the force of my footsteps. My rhythmic, predetermined footsteps, only doing what they have done forever, stepping where they have stepped before. My strides are unchanging. I have not run in two years, not for any great purpose, anyway. Not because I had to. I have maintained the same pace, the same wavelength between my footprints. As I stare at the wavelengths of my walking, the blurred sidewalk turns to ocean. Walking on water, I skate over whitecaps and their myriad of blues, and my routine breaks. I no longer circle about a fixed point. Blindly. My eyes are open and up, ocean below me, newness before me. Growth awaiting.
That’s metaphorical, for my simple intent of change cannot make me more buoyant than water itself. I can, however, enter something that can defy Earth’s gravity. It is a state, both of mind and location. It is a technological advancement, a bird we made ourselves. It is an adventure to the unknown. Flight invites a new perspective of the ground that I can never meet when I am touching it. To interact with this perspective, I need distance. Thirty-five thousand feet, to be exact, or seven miles. The distance between my home and my favorite coffee shop is the same distance I need to unlock either a new part of the world or a new perspective on a familiar one. While it may seem like magic to experience a plane’s take-off--its race down the runway, its purposeful sprint--there is a quiet reason for why it can effortlessly escape the ground, which is something my gaze cannot do with such ease. Its wings are bent; they are domed on the top and flat on the bottom, and as the air rushes past them, two identities of force present themselves. The force assigned to tread across the flat bottom glides quickly across the smooth surface, and it calmly does so because it is purely air, moving swiftly, as air should, without thought or hesitation. The force assigned to the top undergoes a separate narrative because it is assigned a role, a character with a contrasting demeanor. It must take a pilgrimage over responsibilities, relationships, and reality. Over the plane’s wing. It has to think for itself with the mind it lacks, reminding itself that there’s a deadline at the bottom of the hill. It has to journey faster than the bottom air with a lightning velocity, a velocity as quick as life itself. Through everything that accompanies an uphill climb--the exhaustion, the fight with gravity--the air rushes over the top of the wing to meet the air it left nanoseconds prior. The difference in the difficulty of their journeys creates a new force. A buoyant force. A force whose magnitude can propel me into a sky of new perspectives. Suddenly, gazing downward is the only thing I can do, and what I see is a real ocean composed of water, life, and possibility.
But what happens when forced to return to the ground again? Where am I, and where do I look? Some days, I step off of the plane to the introduction of crisp sunlight piercing through an icy atmosphere. Others, I inhale oxygen that feels like the water I had just finished admiring. To stare at a restless ocean is one thing, but to calculate its physics is another. Even after only eleven years of existing on Earth, I found myself in a cyclical lifestyle, and I learned the calculus of my daily routine at an even younger age. Rising in the morning, sinking midday, and crashing from the day’s currents at midnight. I knew the patterns of my year, anticipating the high tide that nearly covers my head in the cold of January. And the low tide that exposes the dark truths poking through the sand of my summers--messages in bottles that never reached the shore. And then, the brief moment in September when I can stand on the sandbar as the foamy salt brushes past my fingertips. That sandbar turned into a complete island when orange hues of October lit my serenity. Orange hues from Louisiana leaves illuminated my takeoff, and orange hues from Indian marigolds welcomed my landing. Orange is the only color that has surpassed the indigos of the ocean. Less intense on the spectrum, yes. Blue’s complement, yes, its opponent. But that orange woke a facet of my soul. A colorblind crevice that never knew the difference between existing and living. The blues that I stared at for so long needed a rival of fire, burning the rope that held me through its centripetal course. Spinning. Flying, off of the ground and out of reality. The ejection from my cycle sent me to a height that even our planes cannot scale. From that height, I saw the circle in which I lived. Ocean turned rain drop. Perfectly round. Man-made.
Looking down at that circle, I did not see the amber of India in front of me. A fly stuck in two weeks of time. I saw marvels through that orange tint: the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, humanity. Standing before the largest sundial in the world, trying to tell time in a period when time stood still, I was joined in its shadow by a group of students not much older than I was then. They were girls whose home was India, but they could tell that an ocean stood between me and my home. That is what compelled them to approach me, question me, and ask for my picture. They had never seen anyone who looked like me before, which was the reasoning they gave as they huddled around me. I exuded a warmth, a magnetic brightness. A fire of my own. That brief encounter changed my life. The amber was penetrated and light poured in. The entire rainbow wrapped me in its qualities. Its frequencies, energy, and hues. I was not a removable part, whether it be from the rotation of my own life or the immersion of new cultures. Untethered, light touched me, and all of my aspects reflected it. My skin, my hair, my red gingham romper. The same light that touches the world, that glints off of running water, touches me.
But what would I have looked like under water? How would the refracted light have reached me, distorted by the very particles, the very infrastructure of my being? To those girls, would I have looked approachable? Or less different than I seemed? Had I shared their reflection, I would have stayed swallowed by the sun dial’s shadow. Trying to make sense of antiquated technology. Trying to make sense of the gravity of my life. They would have passed me that day to only learn about a landmark in their history, not learning about someone in their present. I would not have had my eyes opened to the colors of every marigold, not just the orange ones. Every bindi, every saree, every tile intensified in saturation--for me and those girls. For the traveler and those natives. For the human and those humans. Untethered, the full spectrum appeared to us in the exchanging of hellos. It still appeared to me long after our goodbyes, long after my two weeks of exerting pressure on their soil. It disappeared as the current of my footsteps began to revolve on my home’s soil. Walking through the life I lived before my hiatus of living a more vibrant one. I do not know if my ocean will ever be as encapsulating as the Earth’s, even though I look up. One day, in the magnetic brightness, I will look up to see a world with corners. A familiar world with my classes of science, my air that hugs wings, my own sources of gravity. Flooded with mercurial familiarity, my world will have infinite focal points the moment I learn to walk on land. Without a gaze as a crutch, just as I do on water.