Five days ago I saw my first geyser. Driving through Yellowstone, I gasped when sprays of water appeared on the horizon. Steam from yet-unknown sources drifted into view, and my wide eyes drank in every detail. Cracks in the white earth. Skeletal trees punctuating vast expanses. Orange and teal and salt-white mingling in impossible pools, every groove and depth visible through pristine crystal-water. Steam billowing from rock mouths, sighing the earth’s sulphuric breath. Mud bubbles popping in gurgling gray puddles. The spasmodic gushing of geysers minora—less-impressive peers of their older, more faithful cousin.
I was enraptured.
Beside me, bustling crowds took in the same views, and a hipstery part of my brain rued their presence in this private moment of joy. THIS IS MY NATURE AND YOU’RE RUININNNNNNG ITTTTTT. My presence in their experience was, of course, perfectly innocuous and benign. They were not at all bothered by the way I sidestepped their meandering hordes of strollers and sticky fingers to wriggle my single-person way to the next vista at a far faster clip than they could dream of. (Look, I’m not begrudging a child’s exposure to natural wonders, but if you’re puttering about the boardwalk in a cloud of crumbs and chaos, I’m going to unceremoniously get the fuck around you. Moving fast is my childfree privilege, and I’ll damn well take advantage.)
At one point, I started second-guessing myself. I felt a bit foolish to be among SO MANY people having the exact same experience as I was. Nothing was remarkable, unique, or exceptional about what I was doing, and aren’t Americans supposed to be exceptional at all costs? Isn’t radical individualism the way of our people? How could I be interesting or worthy if I’m just another member of a crowd? If I can’t stand out, what’s even the point?
What’s even the point of treating myself to this magnificent display of nature? What’s even the point of bearing witness to the enormity and majesty of our planet? What’s even the point of igniting a billion new neural pathways from the sheer novelty of the scenes before me?
I actually thought that—what’s even the point—for the briefest moment before realizing I was being a real knucklehead (no offense to the knucklehead community).
No matter where I travel, someone will have gone before me, and they’ll plant their OMG I Loved It There flag in the Facebook comments—but I’ll go anyway. No matter what I write, someone will have pontificated on the same subject, probably in more elegant language or more distinguished outlets than I can ever hope to achieve—but I’ll write it anyway. No matter what mountain I climb, some asshole will be at the summit an hour ahead of me, hardly breaking a sweat and wearing a BabyBjörn—but I’ll climb it anyway.
Because the point is just to do the thing. Even if it’s not exceptional, you do it anyway.
Standing in front of those geysers, my heart soared and ached for the magic of what I saw, and maybe each heart in the throngs surrounding me felt the exact same thing. Maybe our private moments were communal moments, and we’re identical bundles of chemicals and cells, of pre-programmed reactions that span age, race, gender, class, ability, and any other difference we can observe or invent. Maybe my experience was wholly unremarkable, but I still got to have it.
If I sat around waiting for singular experiences, for the opportunity to be completely unique, I’d have missed out on that piece of joy. I’m so glad I went anyway.