lessons from the train

A homeless man boarded the Express 2 train at the far end of the car I was riding in. I wasn’t paying much attention to what he was saying because my mind was resting in that “ok I’ve heard this all before” mindset so he sounded a little like Charlie Brown’s teacher. As he worked his way closer and landed near the door across from me, though, he raised his voice and said, “You know, people, that was a joke and it’s okay to laugh. Just because I’m homeless, it doesn’t mean I don’t know how to laugh and tell jokes. If I got on the train and just told the joke you’d probably be laughing but, because I told you I’m *HOMELESS*, you’re not laughing.” Well, he’d grabbed my attention and I was laughing and nodding with him. It was all so true.

Then … he looked around, lifted his hands up and began to mimic all the folks who were busy with their gadgets and sneered, “You’re not even paying attention. Too many distractions. You don’t know what’s going on in the world around you … you’re not even listening ….. too many distractions … you’re too busy with your distractions to even pay attention to what’s going on right in front of you … iPad, iTouch, iPhone, iTunes …. I … I … I… I … It’s all about *I* and you forgot all about *WE* … too many distractions … I … I ….I … I.” And, as quickly as he got on, he slipped off the train at 42nd street.

His riff was brilliant. And left me speechless but buzzing with curiosity about this man’s background and the effect of technology on human nature. He was gone and headed across the platform to the 1 train. But as the doors of the train closed, I looked around to see the profiles of EVERYONE in the seats on my side of the train busily tapping away on their gadgets, ear buds tucked in tightly with the wires cascading down along their shoulders. And EVERYONE in the seats opposite me was either tapping on a gadget or reading something. NO ONE on those benches was looking up or around and I felt such an immense “don’t bother me” kind of distance between all of them. I’d noticed this before but this time, with the homeless man’s words in my heart, it was at once fascinating and a little sad.

While I understand and celebrate, to some degree, our technological advances, I often wonder: Is it possible that our worlds are shrinking down to the size of the faces of our gadgets; that technology is serving to further separate us by skewing what it means to be connected? Am I missing something or is it very odd that people cry and wail about events happening in remote parts of the world while using the same technology to ignore hardships happening in the train or on the streets at their feet? Is it possible that the faces and the sounds of our gadgets are beginning to have greater value to us than the faces and sounds of our fellow humans and our immediate worlds? Are we becoming addicted to *I* and missing out on the *WE?*

I whole heartedly believe that we are all teachers for one another. So, after connecting with this beautiful teacher on the train, my lesson arrives in the form of a reality check…

Where do I land in the midst of my observations on the train? How addicted am I to the *I*? Am I listening and paying attention to life around me? Am I making and taking enough time to nurture connection, compassion and humanity with other beings who share the wide open spaces with me? Or am I allowing the allure of my gadgets to incrementally usurp my attention and pull my gaze down into that hard little surface? I’m not completely sure of the answers at the moment but it’s worth the self study. There’s nothing like a little awareness to recalibrate your life.

With all humble gratitude to the trainman for poking at my mind and heart today.

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