255: A “Sense of Proportion” (Douglas Adams)

                “For when you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says “You are here.””
                -Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

                I remember, at 16, standing just above Piute Pass in the High Sierras and staring out at the clouds and the sky and the scattered rock of Humphreys Basin. Lakes slept among the low ridges like curled deer, and above us clouds went like an endless fleet, their pink hulls sailing toward a dimming sunset. When I remember it, sometimes, I see a tiny figure in the corner of the image, a boy of 16, trying to feel the wonder all around him by imagining sleeping deer and sailing ships.
                Adams is joking, he’s playing, he’s off and running and hard to pin down. But I don’t think I believe his machine. The Vortex gives you a glimpse of everything, the whole cosmos, with a little marker labeled “You are here.” In Restaurant, that kills you: you can’t survive seeing your smallness amidst this vastness, can’t survive having a true “sense of proportion.” The only character to survive is Zaphod, and then only because he’s in an alternate universe that was created just for him. Because, in all the vastness of that alternate universe, he’s the most important thing. I wonder if Adams has it backwards: if the weight of being the because for all that would crush you. Even if importance is one way to survive, I don’t think it’s the only one. I don’t think it’s the one I’ll look for.
                I spend plenty of time trying to be big. When I do, that effort on my part often pushes people out—there can only be one Most Important Thing in Zaphod’s alternate universe. It tends to push me out, too: I’m too busy with the posing. I’ll practice, instead, being small, being part of things, being awash in all of this. In fifteen years I haven’t finished feeling the view from one mountain pass. In revising this, and trying to figure out what exactly I wanted to say, I mentioned my ideas to a friend.
                “Of course,” she said.
                And with that, simply, there I was, next to a friend and surrounded by all this.

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