“One man interacting creatively with others can move the world.” - John W. Gardner
The other weekend I had a particularly long subway commute.
Anyone who lives in the city knows the irregularity with which the trains run on the weekend, easily turning a 20-minute commute into over an hour.
I have a love/hate relationship with public transportation and seem to derive all sorts of life lessons from it.
One of the things about riding the subway in the city is the sheer amount of contact with humanity you can encounter at any given moment. Most New Yorkers tend to tune it out...wearing earbuds, eyes down, reading, making a point to avoid contact while, simultaneously, being in intimate proximity with another person.
Sardeened as we are, we remain in our own little bubbles, doing our best to make sure our worlds don’t collide or intertwine.
Now, I love people. I love talking to strangers and hearing their stories. But the longer I’m in New York, the more I’m aware of needing my personal space. I have become one of the many who put an invisible field around themselves as if to say, “Stay out.”
The thing with this eyes-down-stay-out mentality, I’ve found, is we tend to shut it all out.
So, back to the girl on the train - me. The other weekend, after what felt like an excruciatingly long wait for the train, I hopped on and was tuning the world out. As we lurched along at what felt like a snail's pace, two young men came onto the car I was on, guitars in tow. With a loud clear of the throat, one of them broke the train’s library silence, saying, “Excuse me, ladies and gentleman, we apologize for the interruption, we’re aspiring artists...”
Immediately, I felt my inner-bitch groan. "Yet another person asking for money, about to play loud, crappy music, interrupting my reading," she thought loudly. I kept my frown inward, but I knew from the looks around me, I wasn’t alone. Nothing like strength in numbers to add fuel to the righteousness of your negativity and judgment.
The two men-boys began to play.
Their voices harmonized, as one played the guitar in perfect rhythm. As another broke into a belt, I was hit with goose bumps. They were GOOD. The music was beautiful and filled with heart.
When they finished, those once deadpan looks around me had softened. A few of us gave an applause, others gave money, and I watched a gentleman pull out a business card. I complimented and thanked them as they made their way to the next car full of uninviting faces.
They left, and I realized I had, once again, been handed a universal smackdown. They come in the darnedest of places.
I’d been given a reminder, that when we judge, we close ourselves off. When we get closed off and protect ourselves in our bubbles from the outside world, we also prevent the beauty of life from entering. While we’re so busy keeping the ugly and annoying out, we also close off the opportunity for spontaneity and connection.
As I waited for my transfer, I reminded myself to stay a little more open. To look up, to allow for connection, and to allow myself to be affected. I was reminded that we’re all humans having a human experience, at different places on our journey, trying the best we know how to occupy our small place on this earth.
I was reminded the more I can open myself up to experience, the more I can have compassion and empathy for my fellow humans. The more I can throw away my judgments, the more there is in life available to experience.
I was reminded that when we shut ourselves off physically or metaphorically, we may protect ourselves from the bad, but we also prevent all the goodness from entering.
It may feel safe in our bubbles, but if we don’t allow a little fresh air in once in a while, it will become stale in there. A bubble is a small existence.
The rest of my ride, I was met with smiles. I brought this with me in my day and ended up receiving a free coffee. Coincidence? I think not.
I wonder where in your life you’re closing yourself off.
Where are you shutting out experience or opportunity?
Where are you working so hard to protect yourself out of fear, that you’re preventing the good from coming in?
This week, I challenge you to look up. Make eye contact and expect goodness. See what happens. You might just be surprised.
P.S. Know someone else who might like this blog? I'd be ever so grateful if you shared it!