I took a train from San Francisco to Los Angeles this week. While I’ve been travelling pretty consistently since completing my run, it’s been mostly by plane. This train ride was the first slow travel I’ve done since the slowest travel of running across the country. I spent a little over nine hours through the mountains and down the coastline of this beautiful nation. Once again, I was struck by just how massive it all is – the mountains, the ocean, the rows and rows of seemingly endless fields. Aside, or maybe because of, the massive beauty of it all, it made me feel powerful, free, and incredibly insignificant.
It’s how I feel in a giant library. I’m frantic to finish this book, or that book, to complete a reading challenge or clear my “to read” list. But there’s always another book, another 1,000 books. It’s how I feel on a ship surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean in any direction. It’s how I felt in the mountains, across the plains, and standing at the Atlantic shore. Contrary to what you might think, however, that insignificance doesn’t weigh me down. It doesn’t make me feel helpless or powerless. It makes me feel free. If that mountain doesn’t care if you climb it, the road doesn’t care if you conquer it with speed, you’re free to do it for yourself. No one is forcing you, and the only one really benefitting is you. You do it, because it’s what you want to do. Because you want to be better, because you want to learn, because you want to be the person on the other side of the adventure. What’s more powerful or freeing that that?
We freedom belongs to important people. Rich, powerful people have more freedom to travel, to do what they want, to get away with what they want. But there’s a power, and a freedom that comes with insignificance too. There’s a freedom to mess up, a freedom to be authentic, and freedom to disconnect, even only for a few days or a few minutes. There’s a freedom to step back and look at the biggest problem in your life as a fleeting blip. The problem is not so overwhelming, not so permanent then.
This isn’t to say we don’t all have a power and responsibility to make changes, progress when we can. We do. We owe that to each other. And as Margaret Mead is often quoted, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” and I agree wholeheartedly with that. But that vastness of our country, our planet, space, puts it in perspective. It provides balance to our striving, our need to achieve, and more importantly, it gives humility to our own self-importance.