The morning after I saw a heart in the sky, I didn’t stagger onto the train half-awake, music pumping into my headphones and thumb poking relentlessly at the screen of my phone. Instead, I hopped on the train like a third-grader going on a field trip to the dinosaur museum and proceeded to smash my face against the glass for the entire ride into San Francisco.
I expected to discover something artsy and obvious, like a big fat heart hanging from a towering crane parked in the middle of a field, for instance, just swaying on its tether in the gentle breeze above a scraggly field, poignant in its rusty and bleak surroundings, and sometimes I have an overactive imagination.
But I saw no heart whatsoever. Not that morning, and not the next morning, and not that week, even when I declared that blinking was for pussies and redoubled my efforts.
I wasn’t disappointed, though. If anything, I respected the sky-heart all the more. Oh, sky-heart. You saucy minx.
Even if it never happened again, and even if I would have to forever live with the suspicion that there had been no sky-heart at all and I had just suffered some sort of ominous brain bleed, the fact was that I had been graced with sweet neon love from the sky. Somehow, it seemed like a shame to waste that experience, as brief as it was.
Somehow, it felt like my turn.
So, in honor of Sky-Heart, I decided to dedicate myself to the sort of observation usually reserved for much younger people. I had grown up, which meant I had become a natural survivor who only looked at what I needed, navigating my way from known landmark to known landmark in an efficient but intellectually impoverished display of economical instinct. I decided to work counterintuitively, to purposely seek out anything and everything I could find that was utterly irrelevant to me personally. I didn’t know exactly what I might gain from this, but that was sort of the point: to cast a wide net and find exactly what I could never expect. It might take a while, I thought, to uncover my next Sky-Heart. But did I really have anything better to do?
I promised myself I would be patient, but as it turns out, I didn’t have to. The payoff was pretty much immediate.
Every day, I walk to the train station. Every day, I turn right to walk onto the platform, where I then stand with my feet planted on the concrete, facing the tracks, straining for any sight of the train because, judging from the fact that everyone else is also doing it, it will show up faster that way. That’s how we do things in California: we run trains on willpower, to cut down on the greenhouse gases.
Logically, if I stood there facing something, that meant my back was turned to something else (and, at that time of year, that something would be cloaked in darkness by the time I returned). You would think this would have occurred to me, and you would think that at some point I might have felt some curiosity as to what the hell was behind me. But for months, I had never once turned around. I had preferred, instead, to stare down a set of train tracks in order to witness the arrival of a locomotive traveling down a set path. I had chosen, every single morning, to focus my attention on the most predictable thing in my existence.
Note to self: that thing runs ON RAILS, okay? What’s about to happen here is really not going to blow your mind. You know you’re mortal, right? Seconds and minutes and hours, just pouring down the drain? And this is still how you’re going to spend your time? Just checking.
The new me, the one who received valentines from the ether, turned around. And … holy shit, you guys. The entire time, THIS had been happening right behind me:
What on earth.
Apparently, every morning, I had been pointedly and rudely ignoring Abe Lincoln rocking formalwear while … racing a locomotive across the desert? HELL YES. (It actually isn’t Abe Lincoln, which explains why Google searches like “Abe Lincoln racing gold train” and “Abe Lincoln badass motherfucker locomotive” did not yield any insights.)
And who is the shadowy villain that angry pseudo Abe Lincoln is racing? ZOOM! ENHANCE!
Is that … an evil turtleneck? You show that pretentious art-gallery owner who’s boss, Abe!
It is humbling to realize that every day, I can stand twenty feet from a gigantic, vivid, super-sweet mural of a drag-racing Abe Lincoln doppelganger and have no idea it even exists. Humbling, and damning. I was starting to realize how embarrassingly self-absorbed and pragmatic I had become in the name of saving myself some minuscule amount of energy in my daily life. I had made a lifestyle out of denying myself that magical moment of surprise in which we are knocked deliciously off-kilter by some unique little facet of reality, that moment in which we gain something that costs us nothing and will last forever.
But I was determined to do things differently from now on. I would do Sky-Heart proud.
Everything only got better from there.