The luxury of happenstance

The view over Lake Champlain from Burlington
The view over Lake Champlain from Burlington

Today, I took a much-needed writing break in the form of a field trip to Burlington, VT. Because  “preparation” rarely appears in my lexicon, I only decided to take this little jaunt last night around 11 o’clock and did about as much planning as anyone can do in the hour before I went to bed and the hour after I woke up and left Which is to say, not very much. I read one article, got an address of where to start, and called it a night. There was wine to be drank. What can I say.

I have a friend in Burlington, who I hadn’t seen in about 7 years. We studied abroad together in Perugia, Italy during college, and kept in touch only sporadically after that. Social media is a fickle beast. It can divide people as easily as it unites them, since we are given such a carefully-curated picture of our “friends,” so tempered by their own self-censored revelations. But Brent and I spoke, on and off, in the intervening years. Most recently, we’d discussed meeting up in Burlington, while I spent 6 weeks just an hour’s drive from his city.

“If we can’t meet up when you’re that close for that long, there’s no hope for this friendship,” I joked once, several months ago.

But I didn’t call Brent before I left for Burlington this morning. Several reasons for my negligence float to the surface.

a) I didn’t want to interrupt him on such short notice. He could be busy, or likely would be, and it would be an imposition for me to expect him to drop everything and see me.

b) Never having visited the city before, I wanted to see Burlington first on my own terms; my lens focused first by my hands, without the input of another’s.

c) We hadn’t talked in so long, I wondered if he would want to see me at all, or if he would, the circumstances under which we should do so. Drinks? Lunch? Dinner? The stakes rose in my head the more I thought about them.

d) None of the above

e) All of the above

f) All excuses are just that: excuses. I had none.

So I drove to Burlington alone, blasting the music I’ve listened to only once since I parked my car behind my temporary house, two weeks ago. My spirit soared the second I glimpsed open road. Sometimes, I forget how much I thrive on the unexpected.

Burlington is a beautiful little city. Walking along the shores of Lake Champlain, I found myself connecting to my own lakeside city. It felt the same, when I closed my eyes and listened to the wind in the leaves and the whisper of the water. I think we always, often subconsciously, connect our circumstances to the places that bred us. I wandered the shopping district around Church Street, weaving my way in and out of kitschy merchants and upscale chains. A sign outside a French bistro caught my eye, “Escape the superbowl here. We have no TVs.” A homeless man sat against the bookstore’s brick wall, his sneakered feet flat against the pavement. I couldn’t bring myself to read the cardboard sign he held, but I smiled at him without meeting his eyes. It’s hard to acknowledge each other’s humanity, sometimes. Especially when namaste isn’t what the other spirit needs, in that moment.

That one article I read before my haphazard departure mentioned a bar/cafe, Radio Brew, I think it was called, that served a drink called the Five Dollar Shake. The beverage consisted of a Wollavers Stout with a shot of espresso dumped in and a swirl of maple syrup on the foamy top. Since it incorporated three of my favorite things, I decided I had to have one, and set out across town to find it.

The cafe greeted me with the raucous welcome of gypsy jazz, a lively, colorfully-dressed crowd and friendly faces all around. One of those faces, awash in serene concentration behind a double bass onstage, was Brent’s.

There are no coincidences, only the circumstances we leave ourselves open to if we allow our lives to unfold without meddling in their natural progression.

I wrote that, sitting at the bar with my Shake, waiting for Brent to finish breaking down the set. The drink, by the way, was just as delicious as I hoped it would be, and the conversation with an old friend, even more so. We spent the rest of that afternoon chatting about lucid dreams, old times and the necessity of letting life take you where the path of nature intends you to go. That is, wherever you wanted to be when you didn’t want to admit it.

As I drove back toward Johnson, the sun sent its last rays out over the mountains that faded into silhouettes against the sky. I thought about happenstance. I thought about my propensity for spontaneity, and how some people are afraid to fly blind. I would never want to lead a life of stability, if that meant it was also devoid of mystery. I wrote that at Radio Brew, too.

Everything happens for a reason. And me? I’m content to know what it is only in retrospect. Life’s more interesting, that way.


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