Every year at Christmas, old Buhl Planetarium* used to showcase an elaborate train set that spanned the breadth and width of a room about the size of the average primary school cafeteria. Lines of people in heavy winter coats and dripping wet boots huddled together with excitement to wander around this gargantuan recreation of old time Pittsburgh. A quiet settled over us as we entered the room by a single door, the planetarium people playing strict traffic cop, keeping shenanigans to a minimum.
We wandered past the tiny plastic trees, sprinkled with a coating of glue and glitter to resemble snow. We oohed and ahhed at the simulacrum of frozen ponds, the convergence of the Three Rivers, the staggering number of miniature replica bridges pocking the mountainously small tabletop Pittsburgh. My siblings and cousins and I poked our fingers at the different parts we recognized, every year discovering something we’d not seen the year before. Lights that flickered on and off, a child waving on a porch, a man working in the steel mills, a barge floating down the Ohio.
Yesterday, I hovered above my hometown at 37,000 feet, and I felt like a kid, scanning the vastness of the tabletop train, but it was real. It was my in-life-and living-verdant-color hometown, the place that will always be home. The trees, in the millions, sprung up from deep crevasses in the hilly earth, appearing from my height to be the same plastic and fuzz toys glued to a wooden board over which hurtled countless toy trains.
From such a great height, from the perspective of years and growth and maturity, it is easy to overlook the closeupness of living life. It becomes easy to idealize the past and this place. I willingly cast off the minor and major bumps of growing up. I overlook the pain of bigger city traffic, of boyfriend breakups and certain bad decisions. From above, from a distance, the picture is perfect.
What I’m saying is that perspective is everything. For instance, were I to really live in Pittsburgh, with most of my all time favorite people within a twenty minute or so driving distance, would I see them as often as I imagine? Or would the pace of life and the demands of existence mean the same thing as now: infrequent, too short bits of conversation that ebb and flow deliciously but only scratch at my craving for more of the sweetness.
When I fly back to Oklahoma, and our plane seemingly floats above Tulsa, I will feel similarly as if I am home. Because my babies are down there, my beloved is there, waiting for me. And my heart will tug and I will want to be the John Bunyan cartoon straddling the world with two giant legs, one in Pennsylvania and one on the brown and red flatness of the west.
By the way, the train is still shown at Christmas, at The Carnegie Science Center