• Brandon Elliott

Look Up: Musings from 36,000 Feet

Look up. If you know me at all, you know those two words carry so much meaning, and I remind myself—and others—to do it often. When I am outside and notice a particularly beautiful sunset, I find myself always looking up in awe and think, “What I’d give to be up there right now.” Well today, I soared to the skies and have reached a cruising altitude of 36,100 feet. The Florida sunset was simply beautiful. I couldn’t help but stare out of the window for several minutes until the sun reached the horizon and darkness spread like a blanket over this corner of the world. The sunlight stayed with me for a few moments still—brief flashes of light and hues of yellow and orange and pink filled my eyes each time my eyelids closed for a blink. There’s something about sunsets that always makes me feel so content, comforted, and contemplative. I’ve been struggling to come up with a new blog topic for a while, so I thought I would just write today to capture my heart’s contemplations in this moment. No script, no agenda, and no particular theme or topic in mind. Just unfiltered writing that I’ll commit to posting publicly—a pronouncedly vulnerable thing for me to do. ​Last week, I asked my students a question, “After everything, what keeps you going?” Unsurprisingly, the question was met with blank stares. I asked intentionally because I’ve observed that during this time in our lives, we are often living task to task in isolation. It has become our new (and temporary) normal. It even feels robotic at times. When is the last time we have stopped to consider our why? When is the last time we have looked up to find our True North despite cloudy skies? It was my intention to ask my students this question not to seek answers, but to have them realize or rediscover what is truly keeping them going. As time goes on, I see more of those around me feeling tired, or feeling like giving up. Perhaps they are finding other careers (which, by the way, I sincerely dislike that the arts have stigmatized career changes). Perhaps they are in the middle of major life changes (relocating, breakups, new relationships, new careers, facing unemployment for the first time).


"So, what keeps me going? The belief that an always can be forever etched within a never."

COVID-19 has prescribed several setbacks in our lives, especially for artists. The good news is that we have all experienced setbacks and barriers in life before. At the scale we face now? Perhaps not. But we all know obstacles and we all know that, in time, we will overcome. When we face setbacks, what helps us overcome is the subtle and perhaps even subconscious answer to the question, “What keeps me going?” We may not even be able to articulate it. Perhaps it is a feeling more than words on a page. In speaking with a friend going through a period of immense heartache, I asked them, “Even after everything you may have lost, how could you possibly be mad at love?” We both sat in silence over the phone. The answer lived somewhere in that moment. Each time I hear the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason,” I find myself conflicted. From a scientific perspective, the universe is fundamentally random and without purpose. It is our agentive capability paired with our brain’s desire to shape stories with a beginning, middle, and end, that make us feel as though everything happens for a reason. We desire to make the world make sense for us. Of course, no one would like to believe the implications of this science: that the world is utterly without purpose and everything is random and beyond our control. Personally, I tend to believe that this is freeing, but I also understand that for many, this brings to question the very fundamental questions of purpose and meaning. From an emotional perspective, I understand the virtues of generating meaning from past experience. It’s comforting, and creating narratives helps us cope with both immense joy and immense sorrow—hence the birth of narrative therapy, an efficacious alternative to cognitive behavioral therapy. I tend to find myself in the middle: The world is full of chance, but those chances are influenced by my actions and the actions of those around me. The takeaway question from this tangent: What are the reasons we tell ourselves?

Some notice that I wear a necklace with engraved text. Few have asked what it says, and those that do usually say something like, “Oh...” when I tell them. It’s one word: Always. It’s my daily reminder to keep going. As I stare out the window of this plane again, I see darkness everywhere with little glimmers of light as the next small city appears in the distance. But I know that the sun will always rise tomorrow, and I take comfort in that assurance. So, what keeps me going? The belief that an always can be forever etched within a never. That every moment is the opportunity to shape an always. I want as many of those as I can when my time comes to an end. I’m going to keep showing up in every way I can, even after everything—the heartaches, the joy, the scars, the happiness, the tears, the accomplishments, the stress, the love, the rejection, the warmth, the anger, the clarity, the confusion. It gets really, really difficult at times. I’ve been extremely cynical before, but I refuse to enter that headspace again. I know that if I keep going, and if I keep showing up for myself and for others that maybe—just maybe—others may do the same. And for those who have reached a point where they know it’s time—for their mental health, for their wellbeing, for their family, or any other multitude of factors—to temporarily throw in the towel? That’s okay too. Love is the art of letting go, and sometimes that may mean briefly putting aspects of your life (even things you love in your life) on a temporary pause just to bring yourself back to center. But when you’re ready, let’s carve out some more always moments, shall we? Love and light to you.

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