Saturday, July 01, 2006

THE MORNING AFTER: How Natural History Saves

I was nine or ten years old the last time I woke up with puffy eyes in the morning. It was a Sunday morning and my body ached with emotion. A pair of my cousins who’d been visiting from down south had left very suddenly the previous night after promising me that they were staying for another several days and would accompany my parents, brothers and me to the Museum of Natural History. There was buzz of the early departure among guests at the dinner party my parents were hosting that very same night but surely, these were vicious lies I was hearing.

So, I tried not to think about my cousins leaving on Saturday night until my mom, coming into my room, informed me that everything I’d been hearing was, in fact, the truth; instead of going to the Museum of Natural History with us on Sunday morning, they were hitting the road in a few hours.

I was livid and dejected, heartbroken and fuming. I locked myself in my room and cried until my eyes stung and my head throbbed painfully. How could my cousins back out of our plans? How dare they not tell me? Did they not love me as much as I loved them? Oh, the sorrow. I cried myself to a fitful sleep congested with nightmares.

The following morning, I stumbled out of bed, hung over on tears and sadness. In the mirror, I saw that the lids swelled over my eyes like dough. I looked unlike myself.

So, I washed my face with icy cold water. I showered and changed into my Sunday museum best. With my lips pursed into uncharacteristic and solemn silence, I accompanied my family to the Museum of Natural History, determined to have a lousy time.

But how could I have a lousy time ambling down the stretches of darkened hallway with softly lit dioramas of mammals and ancient man, ocean life and geographical locations on either side of me? My sadness faded away, a relic of a bygone time, as I stood amidst the larger-than-life wonders of reconstructed dinosaur fossils, a nearly 100-foot-long blue whale model suspended over the ocean life exhibit and startling images of the cosmos.

Whether or not my cousins had stayed a few days, the question of their loving me, even my furious tears and seemingly inescapable sadness no longer mattered; I was but a speck on the timeline of natural history and none of it mattered.

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