You put your head down. You look back up. An hour has passed.
You put your head down. You look back up. The clock has stopped.
You close your eyes. You open them. But your eyes are still shut.
Vision without seeing. Sight without eyes. Perception beyond the known, yet right here in reality. A moment pauses as the rest of the world spins and, for an infinite and immeasurable period of time, reality become fantasy... except it's real.
The elastic nature of how we experience time is one of the most magical and agonizing parts of being human. A spectrum full of joy and wonder and anxiety and panic and love and fear and warmth and loneliness coexist and swap interchangeable, open places in our minds - places in which the neon lights of a mental motel read:
The lights are always on. The door is always unlocked. Whether or not you choose to enter depends entirely upon how you perceive the time which acts as a key to an unlocked door. You think you need it - physically, tangibly. What can I do to have the time to feel happy, to feel free, to feel warm? Where is the lock to get out of this anxiety, this fear, this panic? Where do I put the key? Which way do I twist it? How does it work? You think you need the key, but the door is unlocked. The door is always unlocked.
One of my all-time favorite quotes, from my all-time favorite author (Tom Robbins) is, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." I am 36 now, and I first read that line in my mid-20s. It speaks to me as clearly now as it did then. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. The irony of this is that, by all the usual measurements, I did have a happy childhood. So my reflection on those nine words is as ironic as it is literal and metaphorical. As a child, I was surrounded by family and friends that cared for me and built me up; I never had to worry about food or clothing or someone getting me to/from school or practice. Today, I can say the same thing, and it is still true. Still, that's only one take on an infinite number of childhoods, from yours to mine.
Childhood is something we often misinterpret as a section of time, rather than a state of being. It is a mindset of wondrous curiosity about the world around us. We experiment on the world around us with such ease. It is a feeling that magic is real, and, not only is it real, we can manifest daily; playing with real dragons and ghosts and heros and villains and friends that always were, even if they may never have been. These moments were real to us, in childhood, in our minds, in our reality. You forgot them, perhaps, until now, but now, you remember them, whatever they were for you. Carl Sagan, my all-time favorite human, had something similar to Tom Robbins to say about childhood, “I find many adults are put off when young children pose scientific questions. Why is the Moon round? the children ask. Why is grass green? What is a dream? How deep can you dig a hole? When is the world’s birthday? Why do we have toes? Too many teachers and parents answer with irritation or ridicule, or quickly move on to something else: ‘What did you expect the Moon to be, square?’ Children soon recognize that somehow this kind of question annoys the grown-ups ... Why adults should pretend to omniscience before 6-year-olds, I can’t for the life of me understand. What’s wrong with admitting that we don’t know something? Is our self-esteem so fragile?”
Is our self esteem so fragile that, at the onset of the misnomer of "adulthood," we stop wondering? We stop imagining? We stop believing in magic and whimsy and curiosity? Have we become so laden and incurious with the banality of "adulthood" that magical moments - moment which existed in the infinite during childhood - now exist nowhere except, perhaps, in a void of memory... too far away to be touched and felt and seen again? For me, no. For Phish, no. For anyone in attendance on 4.22.22, I sure hope your answer is "no," too. Magic is real, and we capture moments of it, in their infinite, just as we did, just as we were, just as we are, in childhood. Magic is everywhere, and it is not too late to have a happy childhood.
Look at the expressions on the faces of the people you see here. Tell me which are the "adults" and which are the "children." It's difficult to say, as it should be, because moments like 4.22.22 Set 3 break down the barriers of who we were, versus who we are. Magic is the great equalizer of being human. “Why do we have to grow up? I know more adults who have the children’s approach to life... They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought — sometimes it isn’t much, either.” –Walt Disney
Sometimes it isn't much, either. Some fog machines. Some lights. Some inflatable oceanic mammals... When the dolphins came out, I lost it. But let's back up a few minutes. Sara and I were positioned on the front right (Mike side) corner of the soundboard. Out of the dense pack, protected by Kuroda's own black metal ramparts to two sides, back and left, and like-minded show neighbors to our front and right side. We, collectively, didn't need or want to be close, we did want and need our space. To wonder, to imagine, to look. We knew something was going to happen that required space for our mind to wander.
It was her first Phish shows in 10 years. For me, it was #92. But that mattered not in moments when time goes on, undefined. We had both gone through emotionally and psychological taxing breakups with our significant others during the height of the pandemic; breakups that were ultimately liberating and necessary and healthy, but hard. The kind where you want the very best for yourself and the other person, and understand why that end is actually a beginning. The cliche of it all makes it no less tolerable. It takes a while to accept, but it happens. It's hard.
It became easy. I blabbered on like a monkey in a tree for the months leading up to these shows, "No, no... you... you don't understand. Phish at MSG! Let alone Phish at MSG as a NYE makeup... on EARTH DAY... this is going to be a special show!! HISTORIC MAYBE!!!" With polite smiles and hugs and fiercely loyal support and trust, she believed me. We made it to New York, absolutely smoked the first two shows of the run, had incredible times, and found ourselves nervous and ready for whatever magic we were about to see on 4.22.22.
The third set starts with the stage rising, and trapezoidal LED screens buttressing the stage at all angles. Hmm... cool. I look up. No balloons in the rafters. There must be something more to this. "Free" gets going and fog starts to sputter out from the scoreboard. Hmm... cool. But there must be something more to this. "Free" winds down and the fog begins to get otherworldly. Tufts of liquid cotton roil through the air. The arena begins to transform. But into what? Imagination is turned on. The machines have now been churning out thick white textures for 8 straights minutes, with no end in sight as "A Wave of Hope" buoys the stage even higher. This is absolutely something more to this.
From the back of the floor, parts of the venue, those furthest away from our eyes, were rendered entirely invisible. We, very literally, could not see through the fog, that's how dense it was, and it kept on coming. A murky, opaque dreamworld manifests itself out of the bulk of MSG. The white fog, backlit by the subtle shades of indigo blues of Kuroda's lights, offers an inescapable feeling that something is alive around us all. Imagination turned on. Something is alive. "Waves" starts - roars erupt from the invisible parts of the arena. We look at each other, curious; we look into the fog, shadows. Moving shadows. Something is alive.
Shadows that play and twirl and twist and swim through an ocean of visceral light and froth. I am extremely familiar with the ocean. I spent much of my childhood in it, and, when I can, I spend a few Oregon summer days in it as well. What Phish created with its oceanscape was as eerily similar to the real thing as you can imagine above the surface. The movement of the fog within the light. The non-symmetrical saturation of shadow and creature. The harmonious, fluid movement of it all. We, everyone, crane our necks upward. My mouth is open. I reach out. I touch the magic. It is tangible and real and there, right in front of us. It is real.
There is a moment.
You can't look for it, whatever yours is, but there is a moment in which you can find where you understand what having a happy childhood means to you. It is okay to be selfish here. Whether that is your actual childhood, your partner's, your parents', or your children's, there is a moment when that magic, wonder, whimsy, curiosity of the world around you culminates into a stoppage of time. The world around me spins, and I am standing still. I feel my imagination take over - thoughts become reality, vision persists from places other than my eyes... and my eyes, I couldn't stop the tears from flowing even into an ocean already filled with salt water. The feeling of pure, mental liberation - letting your mind go wild, be naked - running through fields to any place it wants, without borders or limitations or questions or answers, is, for me, among the greatest feelings of being human. Anything is possible. Everything is possible. Another roar. Much more intense than the last. I look to my right. A gargantuan shadow emerges. Bigger than my mind can fathom, the shadow moves slowly, patiently through the water, toward us. Something is alive.
A whale emerges from the deep. Another moment stops. Another piece of infinity I get to keep. I look over at Sara, I see the glistening remnants of tears on her cheeks as she reaches to the whale, oblivious to me. Just how every person was oblivious to everything except the surreal reality in front of our eyes. "I believe in everything; nothing is sacred. I believe in nothing; everything is sacred," says Tom Robbins. Entirely immersed in the sacred experience that Phish and their minds had created, the elements of nothing and everything collide to create anything. She, I, and so many thousands of others, look at this spectacle with child's eyes. Hands outstretched. Palms open. Imaginations entirely free. Anything is happening right now. Ha ha ho ho and hee hee.
There is such unity in the innocence of our reactions. There is such purity in our collective amazement as dolphins danced and a whale lumbered through a world made of pure imagination. There is a moment, for all of us, where this was real, living, and nothing and no one, no banality of adulthood, no skeptic of the mind, no incurious brain, could tell you this was not real. Everything is alive. It is a feeling I've never had at a Phish show. For all of the explosive jams and high fives and incredible memories and "best evers" and friends I've made along the way, Phish did something I never thought they could do. They created childhood for us. They created a place where we could imagine and wonder and be totally, unquestionably free. Under the sea, swimming with dolphins and whales to a beautiful symphony of sounds and colors and textures... all of which were real in their physicality, but alive within our minds.
It was an everlasting moment where, now, writing this, all I have to do is think about it and I am transported back into a world of magic and wonder, where it all exists and it is all real. I can put on "Waves," hear the crowd roars, and, subconsciously, tears fall from my eyes as my world stops. My body understands the microcosm of an ocean in my eyes, and flows down my cheeks, back in time to a place I never left. Like magic, what is gone is now back, what disappeared I now see. I am transported back to that moment, just with a thought, with a note, with a word, I am here and I am there.
I couldn't have told you how long "Waves" was. I am not so sure it matters in this context or any other. The song was a journey, not a destination. "Sand" dropped in next and, with expert precision and musicianship, Phish sweeps us out of the depths of the ocean. We say goodbye, literally, to our new sea creature friends - real life creatures who, for an immeasureable stoppage of time, became intimately familiar and recognizable, just like old friends. Perhaps, when you were young, you talked to your stuffed animals. Perhaps, you talked to your toys. Perhaps, you talked to no one and nothing at all, but you got a response. I am certain the dolphins and whales said goodbye to me, too, and we are transported back into a Phish show from our childhood.
Phish is so good at that... their situational awareness is so on-point, all of the time. Letting magic be fleeting. Understanding that moments are just those. Moments. Allowing the moment to exist, and then gracefully exit, so that the memory and experience of it is so intimate and special and pure, and we can tell the story of it later, understanding just how precious the persistence of the infinite is. "Sand" pops and snaps with energetic panache - a proverbial buoy that brings us out of the water and onto the... it's too easy sometimes... sand.
We dig in our toes, warm them up, and boogie just like we're supposed to do. But where the tides flows, it also ebbs, and with the precision of a sunset "Spilt Open and Melt" ushers in the dying of the light. The harmonious, tidal rhythm of the song selection was brilliant. The specific emotional journey from "Free" (wonder), "Wave of Hope" (curiosity), "Waves" (magic), "Sand" (exhilaration), and "Melt" (culmination) were so poetically radiant, again, it gives me newfound, untouchable respect for the creative capacity of Phish. No one, not a single live music act, can, or will ever, create what they can.
Phish, with its rendition of "Split Open and Melt," again relinquishes control of the present into a moment of wonder and awe. Bubbles replace the fog, kelp replaces the animals, and we drift dowwwn dowwwwn dowwwwwn dowwwwwwn and breathe. We breathe the bubbles floating above our heads. We could see the bubbles, little pockets of air, reaching out to us from the scoreboard high above - the surface, as it were - as we sink down and the colors grow darker, and music grew more opaque.
Tension now, but still magic, like being inside of a waking dream, we were swept in a riptide back out into the ocean. Something changes with the ventilation of the arena, as the bubbles begin to swirl like a school of fish in a circular pattern above the floor, sticking together, avoiding a predator that is the menace of "Melt." Flashing colors and motion in unison. Living and breathing. Again, all eyes look up. Again, all time stops. Again, all minds wander. The reflection of the lights off of the bubbles flicker on and off, like the bioluminescence of deep sea monsters, tempting us. Blues and greens flash to alert us of their presence, an invitation, then dark reds and blacks... they disappear. Panic. The siren song of leviathans and myths calls to us from the stage as the lights and music again flash, then recede, disorienting us to what was real and what we were imagining... and if there was actually any difference at all between the two.
As the song found peace and rolled its way back into the refrain, a feeling of peace passes through me. I look at Sara. She looks at me. All in the crowd do the same to their neighbor. Both of our eyes still swollen and full and happy, just like our hearts and our minds. We need only move our tongue to the tips of ours lips to taste the oceanic salt water - proof that this actually happened. Sensory, emotional, imaginative overload. Celebratory confetti rains down as we said no words, just laughed. Only laughter. It was an accomplishment - for us, for Phish, for everyone in attendance. There was a sense of... rest. Calm, amidst the raucous celebration and sensory engulfment. Beautiful calm. The feeling you had when you were a kid after a great day of playing with you friends, and with your imagination.
The feelings of magic and wonder and curiosity happen with less frequency as we get older, but only if you let them. Seeing with more than your eyes. Feeling with more than your fingers. Perceiving the world not as you are now, but as you were when you *knew* that magic was real. You can do this. You have done this. Search without looking for those moments in your life that stop time and transport you to places that may never have been, but always were. Journeys across the universe even though you never took off your shoes. Questions that need no answers and answers to no questions at all become the most important information you could ever learn. Because there is a moment.
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