You stand on a platform with a group of people. Everyone is dressed differently, coming from different backgrounds and experiences—but you are all waiting for the same train. It can take five minutes or an hour until the next train. But you have to be there, ready for it, before you can get on. If you’re stuck on a bus, or you can’t get out of bed, you’re just not going to make it.
When the train finally arrives, you will most likely be cramped and standing in a pretty bad position. It may be a place you don’t want to be—it’s crowded, and hot, and you have to stand for a long time. Someone’s breathing down your shirt, and your face is in someone else’s armpit. But since you just got on the train, you stand where you can.
After a while, some people get off, and you can move around, find a better standing position—or maybe even get a seat. But sometimes getting a seat isn’t great, either. The person next to you is talking loudly, or falls asleep on your shoulder. It isn’t perfect, but it is better than where you were before.
Even if the seat isn’t the best, you probably won’t give it up. But what if you see an elderly person, or a person with children? Some of you might get up to give them your seat. But often, that doesn’t feel like a step down—you feel good about it. It’s a personal decision based on you knowing what is best for you, in this time and place in your life.
What is great about the train is that you will meet all different kinds of people from all different backgrounds. You might strike up a friendship with the seventy year old man with a dog, sitting to your right, or the young paralegal reading Salinger standing in front of you. You will all avoid eye contact with the crazy man on the train telling you about Jesus. You will bond in your mutually uncomfortable-ness and innate terror. You might even make eyes at the cute boy by the door. You will glance at each other the whole way, until he gets off a few stops before you, shrugging his shoulders and shoving his copy of Game of Thrones in his bag. You want to tell him you read it too. But then he’s gone.
Finally, if you do have a seat, and there isn’t anyone else on the train that you would give it up for, then the only reason you would move is to get a better seat—one with more space, or one by a wall, so you can nap. Sometimes, the train gets empty as well, so it’s just you and a few lucky riders, sitting in silence on the air conditioned subway, heading towards your destination at various speeds, depending on the train traffic ahead.
But sometimes, the train unexpectedly stops with no warning, and you have to get off with everyone else right away. Now you’re in a part of town you don’t recognize, and the train won’t be running for a while. So you have to find another route—a bus, grab a cab, walk. You have to be creative and figure out the next best way to get where you need to be. Some people might not make it—or it might take them much longer to get there.
And just because your train had a problem, doesn’t mean everyone else’s did. Some people might arrive at their destination perfectly fine—on time, in one piece. And that’s no one’s fault—the train wasn’t punishing you specifically. You were collateral damage. And they weren’t. And that’s ok.
Eventually, you arrive at your destination. You’re finished. But it’s only so long until you have to get back on the train. Maybe you want to go somewhere else—move cities and start over from scratch. Maybe you’re in continuous flux, always trying something new, never staying in one place. But when you get on the train again—you have to start over, from the beginning. Everyone gets on the train the same way.
Remember to be present for the journey; otherwise, every trip will be a waste of time. Enjoy the subway—make friends, read good books, listen to music. Because you never know when your last subway ride is your last.