The other night, something was, as Miss Clavel, the beloved nun from the Madeline children's books was so fond of saying, not right.
I lay in bed, wide awake, unquelled by books or television shows and too scattered to write anything worth reading. My heart fluttered inside my chest. Toast, nor tea with honey could settle my nerves. I had to do something, but what? It was nearly midnight so I couldn't go for a run--not quite safe in my Mission neighborhood at that time of night. I had no desire to talk to anyone, yet no interest in being alone with my thoughts. I reminded myself of a colicky infant--in need of comfort but unable to articulate (or even know) specifically what kind.
And then, much like Miss Clavel did, I sat straight up in bed, as if propelled by something greater (for Miss Clavel it was probably some combination of God and her maternal/superhuman ability to sense when her star pupil was in trouble--I'm not sure exactly what it was for me), climbed out of bed, pulled on a bra underneath my night shirt, slid into a pair of boots and wrapped my shoulders in a long scarf. I picked up my keys and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" my roommate called from the living room. "Just out," I replied--a vague answer because I actually had no idea. I walked out the door, climbed into my car and started the engine. Then suddenly, I realized where I needed to go.
I rolled down the windows, cranked up the radio and pulled my hair out of its ponytail. I sang along at the top of my lungs as I drove along Steiner across the city to Lombard and then headed left. I've been a Northern Californian for nearly three decades and a San Franciscan for six years, and the beauty, structure and sheer magnitude of the Golden Gate Bridge still takes my breath away every time I see it. That was what I needed: to have my breath taken away, to see the ocean, to be reminded that I am just a tiny speck in this very big world.
And there is metaphor here, sure; the bridge connects the City, where I make my current home, to the North Bay, where I was raised, but driving over it that night wasn't about reconnecting to my roots or bringing myself closer to home. I had, I realized, briefly lost track of my place in the world and that night I learned that sometimes it takes being in the physical presence of something so vast, so strong and so very sure of its place in the world to remember one's own.