Two weeks ago we took the cable car up to Schauinsland, a patch of mountain on the edge of the Black Forest, not too far from Freiburg. Having gone once in the morning, we went again in the evening to catch the sunset. It happened to be the day of the Nachtfahrt – the one day in summer that the cable car operated until midnight. Up, up, up we went, gliding with the occasional creak, hovering just above the sloping path of bare grass that had been cut into the carpet of juniper. It was a gorgeous day; the view was breathtaking…countryside shrinking, inching further and further away, until it seemed to dissolve into the glowing, liquid sky.
For the second time that day, we made our way into the cafe at the peak and found our seats near the edge of the viewing deck. It was cold now; we tucked ourselves into the cafe’s fleece blankets and settled in with our tea and chocolate. And there we sat, quietly watching the world transform. The light faded, the sky darkened from blue to a deeper blue; the sky darkened still, until there was nothing but a streak of orange marking the horizon…then it finally let go, yielding to the reign of the stars with the twinkling lights of the city.
To think that so many people were within sight! Every one dot of light was likely hundreds of people pottering about, winding down, drying the dishes, preparing to go to sleep. Yet I couldn’t see their faces, I didn’t know their names, their lives…but then again here we were, trapped in our own impenetrable silence. One felt desperately lonely and overwhelmed with company at the same time. They were them and I was me and he was him, alone in our respective existences, which means as far as each is concerned none of us existed at all…
It’s hard to feel present in moments like these. I often find myself trying to memorise the scene. I stare very hard at the tip of a tree or the silhouette of the skyline or an indeterminate patch of green hoping to imprint them forever in my memory, but it is always surreal, always detached, always as if I am living somebody else’s reality and it’s not really me sat there in the cold breeze. After some time gone by I find myself equally able to believe that it hadn’t been me, it was just a photograph or somebody else’s story. What did it matter anyway – now that it is past, as good as a video still in my brain, did it really matter that I had been there at all?
On the occasions when I am able to stop being feeling like a spectator to my inner consciousness, I marvel unrestrainedly at all that vastness, feeling deeply, fundamentally content. I think about Calvin telling Hobbes how our problems seem so small in the face of an infinite number of stars. But as George Eliot sort of said, as much as we indulge in wishful abstractions and romantic philosophies from a distance, whether physical or mental, it is daily life that we are confronted with, that consumes us, that we respond to…and daily life and our temperaments put together are hardly ever romantic or elegant or high-minded.
The moon was exceptionally bright that night. It outshone everything and everyone, and as we rode the cable car down, we saw nothing but our own shadow cast on the opaque wall of the forest. It was just the two of us, another passenger and his bicycle in the carriage. We didn’t know his name, but there we were, him and him and me, still, talking, our disembodied voices trapped in the infinite darkness but freed from silence. It felt almost intimate, like we could each be what we really were, tell our secrets to one another and never see each other again.