We like to believe that we are unique. Sometimes we try so hard to distinguish ourselves from everyone else through our actions, thoughts, and words. At other times, we don’t feel the need to try. One idea supersedes another, and we keep oscillating between finding peace and chasing our bliss. The discerning mind usually chooses one of the two.
And sometimes we are stuck in limbo. When we look around, we realize that we are very similar to the people around us – especially the ones we don’t know and may never meet again. We feel blindsided that our quest to be different has failed. Strangely though, I am astonished by how strangers act as rear-view mirrors, reflections, or simply chimeras in my mind.
I am reminded every day that it is not always necessary to struggle to set ourselves apart.
As I take the metro to work every day, I see different people who I actually understand. Some of them take a nap before facing yet another long day; some gaze outside the glass, lost in deep thought. A few young girls giggle at something funny they’ve noticed. Some others observe how everyone’s dressed. A handful is oblivious to their surroundings. Many of them watch movies on their tablets or listen to music. And there are people who’ve been struggling to finish reading one book for several weeks. I comport with all their actions – at some point I think I’ve acted exactly the way they have.
But what really fillips my senses is the vibrancy of my surroundings in the metro every evening. Everyone seems to share the same relief of going back somewhere, to some place – not necessarily home, but any place they think they may find solace. Even after a long day at work, nobody’s sluggish. Amid the familiar cheer, I enjoy this ride back home.
I watch clusters of excited friends discussing their weekend plans. Some people always hope for a miracle – that someone might offer them a seat. Little children howl, a handful of strangers smile, most of them scowl, and anguished mothers try to ease the situation at hand. For the lone travelers, some sneer as they inadvertently overhear a conversation of the secrets a stranger is privy to. Some of them are too exhausted to care about what’s going on. Many don’t want to look at their phones for the rest of the journey. Many respond to calls from home, assuring someone they’ll be back soon. I see myself in all of them.
Then I see disagreeable things – like the tired person refrained from offering a seat to someone in great need; the person who never apologized for pushing her way through the crowd; the ones who judged others without even knowing them. I am infuriated by their indifference, but in them I see bits of who I’ve been.
Then I watch the observers. Just like me, they don’t seem to mind balancing so many acts all at once. They are the ones who smile when a child runs around the compartment in glee. They multitask between looking inside and outside with ease. They just want to get to their final destination without much trouble. I don’t know them, but somehow, they reflect me.
And finally I see the magnanimous ones. They’re the indomitable spirits who baffle the world with their generosity. They’re the first ones to help others during an intermittent delay. They’ll offer their seat to someone else no matter how rough their day has been. They’ll walk an elderly lady to the exit, just to make sure she’s safe. They’ll fight for what is wrong, even when people care more about the peaceful commute than what is right. They are not perfect – they are just kind. They’re the ones who’ll smile at strangers, knowing that their smile holds so much power. You always remember them even if you saw them just once – and you remember how their radiance permeated through their hearts. I’ve seen a smattering of such individuals. In them, I see who I want to be.
That one hour in my day reaffirms my belief that we’re not always alone in a crowd.