Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Find Your Power Animal
I'm a firm believer that while not every experience improves as you age, the happiness that's derived from discovering something new about yourself or the world around you actually does increase in direct proportion to how far along in life you are.
I have to figure that this little phenomenon is simply the result of that whole "quiet desperation" thing Thoreau once wrote about: the idea that as you age, you resign yourself to a constantly growing level of cynicism -- the natural result of having seen more, done more and been further removed from the sense of wonder that went hand-in-hand with being a child.
As you age, you tend to make peace with the knowledge that there are few surprises left -- yet this is what makes those times when you're proven wrong so wonderful.
Three days ago, my wife and I left our little apartment on the Upper East Side and took a walk over to Central Park. It was an eerily quiet afternoon -- the low and heavy gun-metal gray sky seeming to swallow the usual vibrations of the city, and the streets themselves noticeably barren. We held hands and strolled along, wondering aloud when the first blossoms of spring might finally begin adding some much-needed flesh to the skeletal tree branches and debating whether French or Italian would better satisfy whatever personal vagaries might eventually be at work come dinner time.
Not wanting to return home, Jayne suggested that since we were walking in its general direction anyway, we go the Central Park Zoo. I hadn't been to a zoo in about twenty years, so I gave her what I'm sure was a sufficiently bemused look and agreed.
We paid our money and wandered through the Children's Zoo first, which allowed me to finally see real, live pigs -- which I admitted have always been one of my favorite animals (all obvious jokes about feelings of kinship aside). We got to pet goats (all obvious jokes about George W. Bush aside) and stand amongst birds of all shapes and colors; we were even introduced to what had to be New York City's most irritable cow (all obvious jokes about the entire clientele of Jimmy Choo aside).
After awhile, we made our way over to the main zoo area, which is basically comprised of two elongated buildings housing the penguin paddock and the tropical rain forest exhibit, and one outdoor path that leads to the polar bear, otter and snow monkey habitats, among others. All of these encircle a primary courtyard -- the centerpiece of which is a large above-ground tank made entirely of glass.
Inside that tank, are the sea lions.
The moment I saw them, something completely unexpected happened: my heart leaped, and a silly smile spread across my face.
I honestly had no idea the extraordinary grace of these animals, but watching them glide silently underwater -- eyes closed as if they were in their own perfect little world -- only to occasionally break the surface just a few feet from me -- well, it was like nothing I'd ever experienced. I was frozen -- entranced. They were beautiful in a way that I could never do justice to with words, no matter how hard I might try. I couldn't pull myself away from the sight of them, and felt a sublime sense of calm in the presence of such simple dignity.
In the middle of New York City, my wife and I had stumbled on a peaceful oasis that reminded me what it felt like to be a kid -- by filling me with pure, wonderous joy.
Since that first encounter, I've made it a point to walk home from work every day and stop by the sea lion tank. Yesterday, I stood there under that same gray sky, watching them swim -- the hushed sound of Badly Drawn Boy's The Shining sluicing its way through my iPod's earphones and into my head, followed by Death Cab's Passenger Seat -- grateful to have found what my wife calls my "happy place."
Sometimes it really is the littlest things.