I’m forever grateful to a certain friend for recommending that I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, far back in my Freshman year. I was dubious at first – much like I was with those dang Terry Pratchett books that my friends wouldn’t shut up about. I didn’t read much sci-fi or fantasy at all, back then – perhaps because I was still trying to be as inconspicuous and normal as possible. And I figured that, even if the books were fun and funny, they’d just be parodies, right? Wouldn’t it feel like those Weird Al songs where I don’t know the song he’s mimicking? “It’s probably not my sort of thing,” I thought.
But I did finally read it. I’m not sure what convinced me, but I plucked the hefty hardcover from one of the upper shelves, the yellowing plastic dust jacket crinkling in my hands, and added it to my stack of library books.
When I finally started to read it, its text began to sink into my brain as if there were waiting pilot holes. It started with “the movements of little green pieces of paper,” and redoubled with “…and no one would have to get nailed to anything.” It became inevitable by “Beware of the Leopard.” And by “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t,” it had permanently affixed itself as One Of My Favorite Things Ever. I could only wish I’d read it earlier.
So I tried to make up for it by foisting it upon anyone who’d listen to me.
I got a paperback copy at the Waldenbooks in the mall, and it became a vade mecum. It had a permanent place in my backpack, despite how heavy it was already. Whenever I went on a trip, it came too. It was there when I first saw the ocean. It was there when I went to Washington D.C. It was in my bag again on the first day of college, and the first days of each semester. I was reading it in the waiting room while my eldest niecebeast was born. It was wedged into my purse on the first day of my first real job.
Whether I took it out and read it or not, it was always a comfort to have that book around. It was an ambient reminder that, no matter how new or strange or nerve-wracking this experience was, or how stressed out I was over trying to be good at things without having done them before, the Universe was an incredibly bizarre and arbitrary place where every well-reasoned answer only brought forth more and weirder questions.
It was a reminder that, even if you seem to be having tremendous difficulty with your lifestyle, it’s mostly because you’re expecting the Universe to shape up and make sense — instead of accepting the fact that your tiny primate meat-brain can perceive only an approximate nothingth of the Universe, and can understand even less than that, making it ridiculous to believe that your brain’s idea of “sense” has much bearing on anything beyond your own braincase.
It was a reminder that bad things happen and confusing things happen and there’s rarely a helpful guidebook and there’s never enough tea – but, for all that, the Universe is still a pretty cool place. The other sapient organisms in it are probably just as confused as you are. And even if you don’t have much money or much agency, you can still do and see a lot, if you try – a savvy hitchhiker can see the wonders of the Universe on only 30 Altairian dollars a day.
Not much in my life has gone the way I had expected, in as many good ways as bad ones. It’s still hard to see beyond the end of the week – the month, if things are going really well. But at least I’m more equipped to see the humor in it all, at least I’ve got some good travelling companions, I’m getting ever better at heeding the advice of “DON’T PANIC” – and, if nothing else, at least I know where my towel is.