The news is unsettling, rather heartbreaking. People are suffering as their homes are ravaged by Hurricane Harvey. Parents pray that their children can grow up in some semblance of peace. I asked my parents if it was like this when they were young. "Should I have kids? Is it going to be ok?" They say there were bullies as long as they can remember and their parents before them; they just dressed differently. People were aggressors since nearly the beginning of time. But still we hold on to the idea that we will someday live in a violence and bias free world. There are enough polarizing opinions out there. There is sufficient blame and shame being cast in different directions so I am going to find the common ground. I am confined to a metal tube each morning and each evening, Monday through Friday, and I am comforted by the state of affairs as I have experienced it on the train.
When you have a television sized smart phone, you forfeit some level of privacy. Lock screens are available for passersby to see and sometimes admire. Lock, Unlock, Spotify, Instagram, Lock, Unlock, Fruit Ninja, Twitter, Lock Unlock, Skimm, Text, Lock. Every lock screen I have gazed at unintentionally features something beloved. A child, a partner, your favorite food. Predominately children, I have seen. People find comfort in children. When we clutch our devices day in and out, the first sight we need to see is something beloved.
A mother putting suntan lotion on her babes is such a small act that solidifies the goodness in humanity. It conveys, I've birthed you and I will care for you, your scalp and the spots behind your ears.
Predominately, seats are offered to the elderly, the disabled, and pregnant women. This is a tricky one, because some do not want to have a seat offered to them and some women may appear to be pregnant but are not. Nonetheless, the intention is universal to offer a seat to someone else whose labor might be lessened, even slightly, by a chance to rest their legs or feet. I've offered many seats, even just by scooting over in a three seater, to the undesirable middle spot, so that someone could have a seat. The people have mostly been appreciative.
Whether or not we care to acknowledge it, we are all affected by implicit bias. There is no way around it. The noblest among us will claim not me. But we were programmed since the days of Sesame Street to identify that "one of these things is not like the other." We received shiny tickers on our worksheets for identifying what is different. We were shaped by culture, fear and imperfect teachings. To deny our own ignorance is more damaging than to embrace our fallacies as friends, and teach them well. To extend a hand to someone who doesn't look or believe as you do, to try and understand what made a person behave as they do, to attempt an open mind. I cannot change another person by shaming them, hurting them, or ignoring them. I can work on myself though.
When the Path train comes to a sudden stop, we all sway in the direction that inertia carries us. Like a scene out of a musical I queue music by Pasek and Paul in my head comprised of the hum of the train, a syncopated rhythm, and crunch of metal. Heads bob. Music and travel combined make me feel like life is a film and this is the soundtrack. I am surely not alone in having the vivid experience of life slowing down when a song comes on that you love. A calm comes over you as you travel from point A to point B, the star in your own movie.
I felt something like shame ordering pepperoni pizza and fried calamari on the train. It was not the quiet car but I am always self conscious speaking on the phone when people can hear. I was hungry and did not want to wait, but was oddly nervous people would think ill of me ordering a whole pizza for two people. But how would they know? AND why should I care. A woman a few rows up grabbed her phone and dialed for Chinese. Solidarity, sister.
Bros will be bros. I smirked because I was confined to the corner of the train in my spot where I lean between the door and the end of the seat, so I don't have to touch anything but I have something to balance against. Two guys forfeited confidentiality when they spoke loudly directly in to my ear budless ears. "My plan for the winter is to get fat," one said. "Well fatter I should say." Raucous laughter between them. "Social media is like the Tinder of advertising." I got a kick out of this one. Makes some sense. But he went on, "I will never use Tinder again." "Dude, you have been dating your ex's close friend for five months. Tinder would be your safest bet." I chuckled discreetly and the lady next to me had taken out her ear buds to enjoy the exchange.
Worker bees funnel out of the train. Most of us have to work; it is not a choice but a certainty. We work morning, noon and night and still barely make the bills on time. If we are fortunate, we can choose to some degree how we labor. Are we making music, are we trading, are we erecting buildings, laying floors, counseling the addicted, healing the sick. On the porch in the Pocono mountains I was lamenting unnecessarily about student loans and feeling indebted, still, to a system. My Dad looked at me and said paying bills is a noble undertaking, if not a privilege. Yes, he made paying bills sound enviable. I will think twice before cursing my responsibilities. They represent opportunities, wonderful experiences of the past, and ideally security in the future.
Sweater weather, pumpkin spice, and legs shaven less frequently is nearly upon us. I am surely not the only one looking forward to one or all of these fall themes. Another thing we might have in common. Men and women plunge in to violent waters to save stranded horses and dogs. Ladies rally to fix hair and build the spirits of others. Officers line the streets to protect people who distrust them. The men and women of the armed forces fight to ensure liberties, go fund me pages pop up to help a comrade in need. While we are infinitely fallible, there is good to be found and celebrated. The state of affairs is nowhere near perfect, but was it ever?