Observations from the Working World

On a Thursday evening after 5 PM, I stepped onto a busy orange line train. I always try to move into a section with seats and find a place to post up, knowing that I’ll be on this sucker for many stops. After Back Bay, the number of passengers increases to an uncomfortable level, and I’d rather not be involved in the mass exchanges of people that take place near the doors.

About one stop in, a homeless woman got on the train. She immediately complained about people bumping into her and not giving her enough space, and then she yelled about various things for the duration of her ride. Now, I’ve gotten pretty adept at getting lost in what I’m reading, and I keep my headphones in my ears to avoid any chance at conversation. I don’t want anyone to see my open and unobstructed ears, and think that this is a novel time to strike up a conversation, although it has happened before. Still, lost in my book, I could hear some of the things she was saying to the people around her.

She yelled at people outside the train to let the passengers disembark first. She shouted at people not to crowd her, and to be cognizant of the people around them. I think she yelled something about people not paying attention. The girl who was seated in front of me giggled, and she was talking to someone on the phone about how she should have just stayed late, that coming home early was a mistake. Her giggling was audible, and it provoked a fresh wave of anger from the woman. I wanted to tell the girl across from me to please stop, but it wasn’t my place. In a refreshing change of pace, rather than threaten violence, the women said that she would pray for whoever was laughing.

At the next stop, the homeless woman dismounted, and there was a palpable feeling of relief in the train car. People returned to their conversations, or their music, or their reading material, and things resumed with a sense of normalcy. Something about the woman stuck with me, though, as this happened over a month ago and it’s still on my mind.

The woman had lived a harrowing life. More than that, she was noticing things that so many of us don’t. I have seen the drones that get on the train everyday, who cram themselves in, and have a look of emptiness and misery on their faces that seems to suggest, “I just have to get through one more day.” It’s a gaunt and listless look, one that I hope I never have on my face at any time in my life. It’s an army of people working for the weekend, for that moment of release, when those moments are available every day. All you have to do is look up every once in a while.

I’ve spoken several times with a guy who works down the hall. I don’t know his name, and I think we’ve reached the point of no return. I’m not sure I can comfortably ask him his name at this point in our relationship, although I’m fairly certain he doesn’t know mine either. He wears a Star of David on his neck, and he’s got curly brown hair. He struck up a conversation with me one day, and when I asked about where he was from, he informed me that his house was out in Dracut.

“That’s the only place you can afford to have a big house,” he told me.

When I asked him what his commute looked like, he told me that it took him 90 minutes to two hours. I was stunned. I couldn’t imagine making that commute each day. I’ve managed to hack my commute to where I’m listening to a podcast on the way to and from the train station, and I read while on the train. Reading and listening to podcasts/music make the commute fly by, but it still takes me a solid 45 minutes to get to and from work. I’m not sure I could stomach much more than that.

I ran into him in the shared bathroom on our floor this week, and I asked him how he was doing. “Just waiting for Friday,” he responded. I don’t know him well enough to say what’s in my heart, and perhaps I never will, but I wanted to say something like, “There’s still two good days before Friday. There’s still forty-eight hours until then, and you shouldn’t wish the time away.”

I have no right to judge. After all, his job sounds a lot more difficult than mine, and I don’t really know him. I don’t know what his home life is like, I just found his demeanor and his responses a little sad, almost more or a warning than anything else. I hope I never get to the point where I’m just working for the weekend, trying to pass the five days in between, seeing them as more of an inconvenience or a toll than anything else. Not every day is a pleasure all the way through, but I still find myself enjoying a quick walk or a hot cup of peppermint tea.

It’s important to look up, to make sure you’re really living life, and not just Saturday and Sunday. As I saw the orange line pull up on a frigid Friday morning, the people around me piled into the trains. A quick glance at the big board told me that in two minutes, another train would be coming. I let everyone else board, and hung back, enjoying the coolness of the morning and watching the construction happening across the way. Two minutes later, a fairly empty train pulled up, and I was able to comfortably board. It pays to pay attention, to not be on autopilot, to find moments of levity when they present themselves during the week. I hope I never stop doing that. Thanks for reading.

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