When I moved out of my last San Francisco apartment in January of this year, I had two years worth of SF living under my belt. In two years, I moved between three different neighborhoods — SOMA, Lower Haight, and Nob Hill — and drank and ate my way through bar and restaurant scenes of each respective place rather thoroughly. Most week days I’d walk to-and-from work, taking in the palpable energy of fellow commuters and views of water along the Embarcadero on my 25-minute stroll. When out-of-town friends visited, I happily assumed the responsibilities of a tour guide, braving fiercely cold winds on various bike tours and devouring bread bowls in Fisherman’s Wharf.
And yet, when I made a brief visit back to SF last Thursday, I was astonished by all the beauty I had overlooked while living there. All the neighborhoods that had gone unnoticed, like the enchanting Presidio district with it’s stoic white buildings, beautiful parks and quiet streets. The charming homes and even more charming families filling up local eateries of Outer Richmond. The breath-taking views of the ocean and Golden Gate bridge as you drive along the Peninsula, passing Baker Beach.
San Francisco can feel very harsh at times to a young women coming from Texas. It’s expensive, bone-chillingly cold at times, and certainly not devoid of crime. That said, it is one of the most beautiful, alive places I have ever lived. There are so many intelligent, opinionated, passionate people there. Go to any trendy coffee bar, and you’ll hear conversations ranging in topic from start-up business ideas to Silicone Valley gossip to chatter about Landmark Forum being a ‘fucking cult’ (all of which I heard while sitting in SOMA’s Sightglass Coffee last Thursday).
Seeing San Francisco with a refreshed perspective, after just a handful of months worth of travel and living in Portland, delivers a powerful lesson: When you change your surroundings and daily routines, you experience old, familiar places in refreshingly new ways.
I was only passing through San Francisco briefly, on my way to a wedding in Lake Tahoe with some of my closest college and post-college friends. This particular group of friends began forming in college, but grew and solidified in those special years following graduation, when job transitions, tumultuous relationships and quarter life crises are common. As I looked around at this group of important people in my life during the wedding ceremony, the reception, and later the bumping dance floor, I had stars for eyes. I was looking at my tribe through a refreshed gaze. All weekend, I felt this love and sense of belonging, which I had felt for years with this group but somehow had not stopped to really acknowledge. To marvel at. To soak in.
The first time my 15 year old eyes watched American Beauty, my core shook with an unexplainable recognition. In the close of the movie, Kevin Spacey’s voice carries you through clips of his character’s life, as he delivers a message so comforting despite the jarring events that precede the final scene:
“it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.”
I remember having goose bumps all over my body, stunned. My tiny (late bloomer) body knew that feeling so well — the sensation that the beauty and immenseness of life sometimes is too much to process, and so often I just wanted to hit a pause button and let my heart beat slow down before anything else could happen.
Living in San Francisco, I was constantly on the move. Zipping through my work weeks to get to the weekend. Then I’d blow through the weekends drinking, partying, eating and sleeping excessively. Always busy, always making plans. In a hurry for the sake of being in a hurry. From the way I worked to the way I partied, life was in the fast lane.
Don’t get me wrong; I have no regrets. Truly. I experienced a lot of the city, picked up invaluable skills at my job, and was fortunate enough to spend my last six months living on my own in a cute little studio on top of Nob Hill. It was a trip. But, I am so thankful that I stopped moving so fast.
I changed my pace, and thus changed my view point. And I can’t feel anything but gratitude for my (awesome) little life.
With courage, love, and intensity,
Photo credit: Ben Tseitlin. Picture taken in Outer Richmond, SF.