I Sat at the Back of the Train

I’m back! I think I’ve done all the brain charging I needed to do, and I’m ready to start writing again. (And really, when I don’t write, I do a lot of thinking, which is totally problematic for everyone, but especially for me.)

Do you know where else I do a lot of thinking? On my commute. I ride a train to and from work, and while it is great to not be stuck in traffic, like I said, it leaves a lot time for me to contemplate the meaning of life.

Well, sometimes.

Because usually I’m reading, or listening to music, or otherwise occupying my attention on my train ride. Completely tuned out. Just like every other passenger on the train in the 21st century. If it weren’t for the overhead announcement that barked out the station every time we stopped, I’d probably still be on that train, never looking up, never noticing where I was, just riding forever.

Until today.

I got on the last car. This is a little trick of daily commuters: everyone comes down onto the platform and stops about in the middle of where the train will be. This makes that car pretty crowded. But if you walk down a little further on either side, you’re more likely to get a seat. (Who says blogging isn’t informative?)

Anyway, I grabbed a seat, facing backward. This is usually a problem for my sensitive stomach that is soy and dairy (and maybe even gluten) intolerant. The rolling of the wheels translates to my stomach roiling and me feeling very sick. But, not today. And so I went about my daily routine, feeling every bump and turn, letting the landscape slip past, reading my book without the conspicuous presence of nausea.

And in between turning the pages, I looked up.

I saw the tracks flowing away, and the burnt sky of a rising sun through a perfectly framed back window. It was breathtakingly beautiful, seeing the horizon and watching everything just pass me by. The sun came up over the Earth, and I was traveling across it in this strange, wonderful parallelism.

And I thought to myself, in that poignant way that we do when we see something unique and want to give it meaning, that it’s okay to look back sometimes. It’s okay to think about what has been. Because the past can be really beautiful. To see where you’ve come from and to understand that it’s made you who you are is truly a great lesson in life. But that doesn’t mean it will always be pretty to look at. The past can be painful or ugly, too. I simply happened to look out at the right moment and impressed upon it my own experience at that moment.

So, in essence, you shouldn’t spend too much time waiting for the next station or watching the tracks slip away, although it can sustain you for awhile. You should be reading a book or listening to music, living your life, just being in the present. And maybe, looking up every once in awhile.

No Thank You

Today I learned a lesson that all of my college professors, my parents, and any old wise man on top of a mountain could tell me.

Don’t expect anything. Don’t expect anything good to happen or anything bad to happen. Just don’t expect anything. It’s easier that way.

Take today. I am one of the million cheerful people who take public transportation. Ah yes, the dank stairwells, the finicky ticket machines, and don’t forget, the other 999,999 people traveling with me. If anything, it is an experience. And we’ll leave it at that.

And speaking to that last point (because I couldn’t leave it at that) about all of those people, it can definitely be tough. They don’t always move out of your way, and they don’t always slide across the seat to let you sit. My strategy is to find someone who is pretty much doing what I will be doing (reading, listening to music, etc.) so that I won’t bother them by sitting next to them. We’re sort of like two friends hanging out, doing the same activity.

But as soon as I sat down today, I saw an older couple looking around for a seat. The woman sat directly in front of me, while the man was unable to find a seat near her. It was an easy choice. I quickly got up and told him to sat down. He might have muttered something, but I didn’t hear it.

And do you know what else I didn’t hear? A thank you! Seriously? I know it’s common courtesy to let someone sit down that should have a seat over you, but you couldn’t say thank you? It’s like when people don’t give that little wave while driving when you let them out into traffic. It takes two seconds and it makes the world of difference!

So, I got up fuming, a little. I knew my heart was in the right place, but I felt all wrong. And then it dawned on me: I was doing something for the results. I was expecting something very specific to happen. I genuinely thought that the man should be sitting down, but I was also waiting for him to acknowledge me, to thank me, when I should have just moved out of my seat with no expectations of receiving anything for having manners.

But this story has a twist ending. The guy that was sitting next to me actually got up when I got up to let the elderly couple sit next to each other. He then came over to me and asked if I wanted to sit down in another seat. I certainly wasn’t expecting him to do that, but I was incredibly touched by the gesture. Anybody else might have watched the exchange and let it happen. And this time? I hadn’t expected him to do that. I hadn’t expected anything.

So, in the end, expectations are really just pleas and wishes for the world to work like we want it to. And when life doesn’t work out how we want to, sometimes, it is just preparing you for something better. When you don’t have expectations, you may find that you’ll be pleasantly surprised anyway.