a walk

It’s the spiritual part of me that likes the high places. Not the roof of a building in a city (a cropped view of the rat race), nor the true vertigo from an airplane where the world is an abstraction and reality is the shape that imagination forces into the clouds. Medium height: that sweet spot between the Routine and the Transcendent. I’ve only found one perfect spot so far.

It’s a short walk to get there, a bit less than two miles. First, a right onto Whitmore St. Past my first apartment in Oakland, a light-less craigslist rush-job with an undergraduate student landlady from China, depressingly younger than I was. The mailbox was constantly overflowing. My landlady would get her mail delivered to my address. Letters from the DMV, gas and electricity bills, bank statements - testaments to a life just begun in this country. The previous tenant had moved to a retirement home. She had magazine subscriptions (the New Yorker and National Geographic). A lot of letters from her health insurance (I worried about her). Sierra club membership dues reminders. AARP pamphlets. I never met her, but her mail spoke to a solidified intellect; she knew who she was and what she wanted from this world. My messages were in there somewhere. I’d often mistakenly throw them out, but they were mostly spam.

Then another right onto Gilbert St. I walked with my mother here often, during the winter when she came to visit from India. As a family, we’ve always lived in warm places: India, Kenya, Malaysia, Singapore were where we were all together. My mother can’t abide the cold. She always has a sweater on, a jacket on top, definitely thermal long underwear. All this combined with a salwar kameez and sneakers[1]. We talk about my marriage (she wants it done soon, I’m bargaining to postpone), my ambitions (she tells me to follow my passion), my work (refer to ambitions). About me, mostly. I don’t call her enough.

Left onto John and another left when you hit Piedmont. The sidewalk is often crowded, the line for Fenton’s Creamery blocking my usual walk path. I tend to cross the road when it’s crowded, eye contact followed by a quick glance away to..well, anything else. Piedmont is the Platonic Form of aspiration. Rich, comfortable, mostly empty art galleries, and coffee and gelato stores side by side. The wind runs through and sticks my shirt onto my folds. I zip up my hoodie to hide them.

Straight on. Past the mausoleum and guitar center, and into Mountain View[2] cemetery. It’s quiet here, even on a warm Sunday afternoon. Nobody really likes to talk when the dead are in the vicinity. Higher, up stairs and a winding path. My dad would have liked this path; he liked walking in beautiful places. We used to walk around the canal near our house in Singapore. He would make me swing my arms in a caricature of a walking motion to help me lose weight. Had I not thrown his ashes into the Indian Ocean, I think he would have wanted for them to be set loose here.

The Gita talks of the certainty of death for the living and the certainty of life for the dead. Chains of cause and effect, flames of desire and fear waiting to be extinguished in this life and the next and the next and the next ad infinitum. From the top, you can see the port of Oakland, cargo ships waiting to enter or leave. You can see airplanes descending towards SFO International and leaving for parts unknown. Cars the size of pixels on the freeway connecting Oakland and San Francisco. There’s a hidden rhythm, more complex than my mind can comprehend. It’s comforting to know that I belong somewhere in that melody.


[1]: My father, were he alive, would not approve of the outfit. I’d tell him that it’s one of those times when function trumps fashion.

[2]: More a glorified hill, but the dead don’t care for such distinctions.