Greetings from Lake Sircoe, Canada. I wish you could see this place. I just came down from the top of a lighthouse where I watched a pink and orange sunset over the water. A couple white gulls lazed around in the air and there was a red sailboat rocking way off in the horizon. It was the most perfect event I’ve ever witnessed, and it was the ideal way to end the day that I’d spent at the end of a wooden dock reading Hemingway and drinking gin and sodas. I finished half of The Sun Also Rises today, and even more of a bottle of gin. Then I sauntered down the island and up the stairs to the lighthouse tower. Truly stunning.
I thought about you today. We had a great time together last month didn’t we? I kept wishing you could be here today. I’m probably just being nostalgic for a you that never really existed though. You were always too busy to just sit and watch the sun set. Does idling an entire day away listening to water lap at a dock sound good to you? How about sluggishly thumbing through a Hemingway book called The Sun Also Rises with a sweating glass of gin and soda? I have a feeling it all sounds too boring. Too lackluster.
You always liked things faster paced. If anything it always felt like I was sprinting just to keep up with your walk. Of course we argued this issue into the ground and I’m not telling you anything you don’t know; it’s just that I had almost forgotten that about you until we spent last month together and then it hit me like a brick, oh yeah, I remember this – you are always in a hurry.
You were always on to the next thing before you finished the first. You wrapped the next bite of spaghetti around your fork before you had even swallowed the one you were on. You marked up tomorrow’s square in the daily planner while the sun was still up and leaving you plenty of good today to work with. You hadn’t figured out how to use the apps on your iPhone 4 and already talked tirelessly about the iPhone 5. You were always on to the next thing. You were looking for the next breakthrough band, the next film, the next everything. You were never happy with what you had. You needed novelty and newness and next, next, next.
There I go again. We’ve gone round and round about this and we never come to a solution. I don’t know why I feel compelled to bring it up. It is just that we spent 27 years together and some of your qualities rubbed off on me. They say couples tend to start looking and acting like each other, and sure enough. Even now I often find myself scarfing down a meal when I have plenty of time to actually sit and taste it. I’ll find myself carrying on about the next place I’m going to visit or the next device or album I plan to purchase when really I should be thinking about where I am and what I have right now. You rubbed off on me during those years.
I’m not saying this to make you feel bad, though. That is just who you are. And this is what I’ve learned about relationships: The quality you hate most about someone is usually tightly knotted to the quality you love most. If you do away with the thing that grates on you the most, you’ll also be killing the thing you love the most.
The thing about spending a week isolated on this cottage on an island, the thing I hate most about it, is that one cannot simply get supplies when they are needed. We took a ferry ride out to the island, and we loaded down the ferry with what we hoped would be enough supplies for the week, but it wasn’t. Leah ran out of her cigarettes already, and she’s been pretty cranky about it. She can’t just run to the store and get more, so we just have to deal with the irritability.
I wonder if maybe someone shouldn’t build some kind of bridge out to the island so that vacationers wouldn’t have to wait on a ferry to the mainland every time they ran out of toilet paper or needed to get ice or smokes, but if a bridge were built the quiet solitude on the island would be sacrificed. And that’s what I love most about the island. The worst quality about the island is webbed together with the quality I love most. If supplies were readily available, the serenity I am experiencing would not be. That lighthouse would have been filled with tourists, and the peaceful sunset I witnessed would have been a guided tour.
And the same thing goes for you, America. That quality that I hate most about you is inextricably linked to your best quality. You are always in a hurry. You are always moving on to the next big thing. You forget to enjoy the moment. You always think about what could be instead of what is. And that drives me crazy. Maybe it’s what drove me away. But it also is what makes you great. I’ll tell you a story.
One time I was with a friend of mine, a Jordanian, on the way to see a movie. He asked me why you seemed so unhappy, why you can’t seem to just enjoy life. Why, he asked, does America not relax? Why does America not take her vacation days? Life, said my Jordanian friend, is to be enjoyed, not to be rushed though like America does.
I almost agreed with him, but then I had a thought. Well, I told him, look at this thing you are driving. If it were not for America's dissatisfaction with conventional travel and her relentless work ethic, the automobile never would have been invented, the assembly lines never assembled. Then I looked around and saw that all of my friend’s CDs in his car were from American musicians. How about this music, I asked him, if it were not for America’s relentless pursuit of creativity, you would not have any of this. Hell, I told him, if it weren’t for America’s work ethic and dedication to craft, the movie theater we are heading towards would have nothing to offer. And how about that iPhone, I told him as I pointed to the one sitting in his console. Sure, Steve Jobs and Wozniak were workaholics who never took the time to relax much, but that’s why you can check the movie times on your phone and then pull up a map telling you how to get there. I thought I was over you, America, and then suddenly I found myself offended that anyone would criticize you. I found myself coming to your defense.
Have you ever tried to hold a picture right up to your nose and look at it? It gets all blurry when it is too close to your eyes. In order to see it clearly, you have to put some distance between you and the picture. The same is true for relationships. Sometimes you have to put some distance between you and the other person to see them more clearly. I used to criticize you for your inability to relax. Your insistence on the next everything made me insane. But that was when we were too close. Now that you and I have some distance between us, I can see that the thing I hated most – the thing that drove me away - is also the thing that I love most about you. The fact that you can't relax, can't enjoy what you have, the fact that you need the next and better thing is what makes you awful. It's also what makes you great.
I’m not saying this because I want us to get back together. I am not ready for that and it’s not realistic, so don't worry that I'm going to come running back. The sun set on you and me. Our day dipped down over the horizon over a year ago, and it’s gone. I think we’re both at peace with that, and who doesn’t feel at peace after a good sunset, especially if you can watch it from the top of an old lighthouse. Right now I’m really enjoying living at my own pace, as I’m sure you are. I’ll take all the slowness I can get. But I wonder if someday, maybe way down the road, we might try to make it work again. Hemingway may have had a point; the sun has set on us for now, but the sun also rises.