I have a belief that life is the sum of small moments, rather than one general picture. That things which are commonplace can become the most significant. But in a Western mindset, we’re fixated on the next step. We want things newer and faster than they were yesterday, and we want them now. As a culture, we’re prone to determine success solely by monumental figures. We quickly forget the instant rush of excitement when we read the college acceptance letter or get the promotion, and instead replace it with resentment when college becomes difficult or that new job turns into drudgery. We rarely linger in these small moments and fleeting feelings, in the hope that something bigger and better is just up ahead.
With a worldview like this, it’s nearly impossible to remember the seemingly mundane moments that make up an ordinary day. But it is these ordinary things that can change the course of a day, and subsequently, a life.
Morning and evening commutes are prime examples of this. We all hate traffic. We all fight congestion, an unwillingness to wake up earlier, and a despair to spend the better part of the day in a windowless cubicle. In this, we want nothing more than to get to the next step – to escape traffic and be in our office where at least we have coffee waiting. A commute is a chore, a complaint, and a stress. We don’t take time to appreciate the ordinary moments because what could become extraordinary about a commute?
Knowing this, I decided to turn a morning commute into a morning of small, ordinary moments. I listened to the sounds the turntable made as it scanned my Metropass. I heard tourists with foreign accents arguing over a map. I felt the seats of the train – cracked vinyl, but those cracks had born hundreds of passengers, each with a story. I watched the lights in the tunnels flash by until they were a steady blur. I didn’t listen to music and instead to the dozens of conversations around me. And in those conversations was the hum of other lives and other stories.
All of these things were commonplace and ordinary, but as I exited the station, I found myself walking with purpose. I felt alive and aware of the world. I had found a new respect for the things that so easily go unnoticed. Instead of getting lost in obligation, I became acutely aware of the possibility in each and every interaction, in each and every moment. And because I was aware, my entire day took on new meaning. It changed for the better.
The ordinary, over time, is what amounts to the extraordinary. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own heads long enough to realize it.