Odd that New York would ground me. I’m supposed to feel most at peace on the beach, in the ocean, in the forest, lying on a riverbank, hot sun dizzying me until I stumble into river, the cold water snapping me back into clearheadedness.

All those things do provide a sense of place, a certain perspective only gained by trading the computer screen for some fresh air and natural beauty instead — but even in the line-up, peace can be hard to come by. Someone wants to know something about an upcoming event. Someone else saw a lot of trash needing picking up. This is good, the sharing of information, but precludes any total escape from responsibilities.

Even when I’m alone, striding along the waveslope, delighting in the avian acrobatics and occasional perfect sand dollar, my brain whirs with to-do lists and worries. At the river, the rare exposure of skin usually covered reminds me how much younger I’m not getting — ack — and how much I have left to do.

And everywhere, we run into each other — it’s a small town, the entire North Coast of California. For those of us unskilled in hiding out, disappearing becomes impossible. Mostly, I like this. Recognition makes a person feel like she belongs.

But the flipside is always being poised to measure up, to respond to people’s needs, to be ready for conversation on any topics of the day. To be at one’s best. I fail at all these regularly (sorry) — which is why New York was such a relief.

So many people inhabit New York City with their own stories, hopes, dreams, responsibilities — to try to grasp them all is unfathomable. The number of languages. The variety of lifestyles. The fact that the level of talent, beauty and fame is so far beyond what’s achievable in the short span of time I’m visiting  means I don’t even have to try — and that’s the most lovely part. New York takes all comers. For once, I get to accept without question all my flaws and in being kinder to myself, I noticed an expansive love for everyone sort of blossomed within me. Is that what it feels like to attain enlightenment? And how silly is it that I would stumble upon such a purity of emotion in a town constructed primarily on artifice and legend?

I have not yet returned home — and I still love Humboldt first and best — but with each step back into regular life, the glow fades a bit. People need stuff. I will do my best to provide. A glance in the mirror reveals I need stuff, too; a turn to the page where I’ve listed my goals highlights even more clearly how I need to step up, do more, be more. My fondness for the world remains unabated. It’s the kindness I felt toward myself I’m afraid will slip away.

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