The sound of the train doors colliding with the torso of the unfortunate man made a sound much louder than I had expected. Its impact spread around the carriage like an electric current where every passenger it seemed felt its reverberation. The man himself was in agony, it said so all over his face. After what seemed like a very long time the train doors reluctantly slid apart releasing the battered commuter from their crushing grip. I half expected him to fall limp on the ground or scream out in pain but his response was far scarier. Once free he leapt fully onto the crowded train, found a spare seat and buried his red face in a newspaper for the rest of his journey. I looked around me and saw that people’s faces had changed, their expressions had gone from acute panic to indifferent blankness all in a matter of half seconds. I couldn’t decide which of these two things I’d just witnessed disturbed me more.
People, everyone it seems is in a rush. Hurrying has become the same as walking. I can’t remember the last time I watched somebody stroll, even baby strollers are being pushed faster than ever. I wondered where the crushed commuter man had to be in such a hurry that he was risking life or at least the function of several limbs to jump on a train where the doors were already half closed. Surely two minutes to wait for the next one isn’t too intolerable, or is it? This treadmill type existence of continual and perpetual movement is getting worse and by that I mean it’s getting faster. We are living our lives more and more in a constant state of emergency and forgetting to ask hey what’s the emergency?! What do we fear will happen if we stop or if we, dare I even suggest this, do nothing for a while.
Perhaps it is about timing. Do we rush around because we never have enough time to do all the things we need to do? We work so hard to try and fit everything in and yet are always playing catch up. But on the other hand there is always time to do it in. Contrary to popular belief, time actually never runs out, we are the ones that have cornered it off by setting up deadlines, appointments and infinite to-do lists. Time is a minor player compared to what we do to it. The trouble is, allowing time to just run freely without conditions and constrictions opens up all sorts of unexplained feelings. Guilt being among the main ones I imagine. If we’re not doing anything we feel bad about it. If we’re not doing anything for long enough we feel guilty. Activity has become the norm; widely accepted and expected all of the time. And it starts early in life, I remember my favourite book when I was a child started with the words, “Hurry up hurry up get on the train”.
Hurrying from one place to another, from one particular activity to something else can mean that we literally don’t have the time and space to stay in the present where already so much is going on around us if we sit back and watch it unfold. At the speed we move we rarely allow the world to touch us to move us. We react to it but avoid being affected by it, because we never stick around long enough for lasting impressions to take place. We don’t notice the smiling child sitting opposite us on the train staring in the hope that we’ll smile back. We give the widest berth possible to the homeless man who has made the station underpass his home and doesn’t even ask for money anymore. We no longer hear birdsong or can distinguish between the different types of birds the way we were taught to at school. We live in our own worlds within the world.
There is a paradox in all this too, and that is that somehow we are distinguishing between the things that can affect us and the things that don't even come close. It seems to me that there is a decision making process going on here, albeit not a completely conscious one, but one whereby some experiences are allowed to stay with us for longer while others are fleetingly brief. How is it that sadness rarely outstays its welcome while joy offers only flying visits? We rush because we are in a hurry, we are in a hurry because we can't stop, we can't stop because if we do the world catches up with us and we will be caught, and if we are caught we are not completely free, losing our freedom would mean that the world has a say in how we live, and if the world has a say then we are open to the unknown, to anything, and if the unknown is nice we may at last rush to stop and wait and see.