The inescapable fact is that the brain is an unnerving place as well as a marvelous one.The Body: A Guide for Occupants, Bill Bryson
Reading this quote I am especially reminded of my three unnerving yet marvelous kids, ages 9, 6, and 2. When they are marvelous, they are marvelous. But when they are unnerving, buckle up. I want to understand them. I do. I try logic. Of course I always love. And I cook them delicious meals. Still, they whine, cry, complain, and antagonize each other.
But living here in Quito, a city “dangling from the Ecuadorian Andean mountains at a staggering 9,350 feet above sea level,” I have come to realize that — in addition to the brain and my kids — my city is also unnerving and marvelous. I like to focus on the marvelous parts, but reading about it from other people’s perspectives (see above: “dangling,” “staggering” — kind of frightening words), accepting the unnerving bit is part of the puzzle. Seeing Quito as similar to the brain, specifically those parts of the brain that deal with emotions (hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, limbic cortex) has helped me appreciate her.
Because dang she emotional. (And to the Literary Prudes of America, the LPA: Yes, I left off the linking verb. On purpose.)
I’ve talked about how she is “All Seasons in a Day,” but there’s more to it than that. In a single day, Quito is happy hopeful cheerful blithe, bitter gloomy spiteful mean, anxious nervous restless scared, and angry sullen sulky sad. It’s a lot. And it’s every, single day.
So you wanna go on a walk through the city because it’s a beautiful, sunny day? Bring an umbrella and a jacket. The rain and cold wind will come.
Wanna go on a bike ride because the clouds are covering the blazing hot sun? Bring a long-sleeved shirt and sunscreen because the sun will inevitably come out and BURN YOU.
Wanna hoof it up a mountain to get a great view because it’s a crystal clear day? By the time you get up, the clouds will have rolled in.
OK, Quito, we get it: you really don’t want to be San Diego, California (shout-out to Elizabeth and JP — someday I’ll visit, and it will be the easiest hosting ever because all I’ll want to do is bask in the sun without turning into a lobster in 22 minutes).
But what I really think is that Quito simply doesn’t want us to figure her out. I remember (vividly) a couple weekends ago looking up at the sky, thinking “there is not a single cloud in the entire sky — surely we have a couple of hours of clear day.” So we biked to a park to see some views, and — SURPRISE — clouds rolled in before we could see any of the awesome volcano peaks that surround us (like Cotopaxi, Pichincha, Cayambe, and Antisana). Well played, Quito.
So she’s emotional. Fickle. Likes to tease me.
But I love her. On the rare days when it’s clear enough to catch a glimpse of a snowy peak — wow, it’s enough to make an atheist believe in a God (almost). My dream is to ride the Quito Teleferico, hike Pichincha, and take in a clear view of the city and the other volcanos. (Reminder: I’ve done this, but hiking up Pichincha was like hiking straight into dark gray clouds.)
What I’ve learned from living here is to be ready for any emotion — happy sun, gloomy clouds, angry thunder. I don’t bother planning an outdoor activity with any hope of particular weather. I always have a contingency plan.
Maybe she’s trying to teach me to be more patient with the humans in my life. Maybe her capricious emotions that keep me guessing are a good reminder that I can’t control other people. Because I certainly can’t control her.
I can’t control her with logic or loving or making delicious meals. But it’s probably better that way.
Who knows what’s in store? And isn’t that the truth with humans? So instead of thinking you “know” someone, allow for them to make changes from day to day. Perhaps a change towards forgiveness. Perhaps a change towards loving others better. Perhaps simply a change to say “thank you” after a meal.
Perhaps one small change to make the world just a little bit better.
And if you got through this entire post without thinking of Straight Outta Scranton, now you have. You’re welcome.
“Scranton — WHAT? — the electric city”