This morning, I find myself wondering again at what I see: Is it desperation I see, or an example of the heroic human spirit of adventure?
I've watched it for a long, long time, and still I don't know for sure.
My bus commutes have become a laboratory for observing human behavior, and here's what's puzzling me lately:
Human beings have a very clear urge to say "NO" to the present, to escape the here/now and go elsewhere in their minds. A woman I saw on the morning northbound bus this morning was a poster child for the condition. Upon boarding the bus, she fiercely clamped stereo earphones around her head, then opened a novel and buried herself there. For the 40 minute bus ride she did not reside in the present at all, but was clearly doing everything in her power to be someplace other than where she was at that moment. I wondered what her senstations must be like at that moment, trying to read while music blared in her head at the same time. It gave me a headache just to think about it.
It's not as though the here-now was a terrible place, at least not this morning. This morning's air was balmy and nice to touch; a slight humid haze made garden colors in the passing homes almost luminescent. For anyone not buried in a book, or ensnared by I-pod music, the world was a pretty great place. Yet fully 90% of the commuters were doing pretty much everything in their power to be someplace other than where they were. Many had eyes closes as they listened to canned music. Others were buried in newspapers. One woman applied makeup; a young man busied himself with office paperwork.
This urge is pretty prevalent. It's a rare person on the morning bus ride who is isn't trying to distract themselves in some way, or to escape into some realm of imagination.
I vacillate between thinking this is a tragic human trait, and thinking that it's evidence of the herioic human spirit for exploration and reach. Do we try to lose ourselves in music, in the imaginary world of printed language, because we're unable to handle the quiet pain of the here/now? Or is this evidence of our adventurousness, our talent for exploring strange new worlds, or going where no one has gone before?
Ruefully, I recognize that my judgment depends on what I'm doing at the time. If I'm grooving to the here-now, I find myself pitying the folks with eyes and ears buried in other media. This morning, the woman I watched entirely missed the three young children who stood hugging one another a yard we passed along the way.
I'm an utter hypocrite, though.
If I'm enjoying a great novel myself, for example, then I'm celebrating the power of human imagination, and wondering if the folks staring blissfully into the distance are somehow incapable of loftier thought. The folks who stare into space....how sad that they don't roam the rich world of Thomas Wolfe's archetypal America in "Look Homeward, Angel", like I am.
Much as I'd like to think I have a bit of skill at here/now presence, the brutal truth is that I'm prodigiously capable of fleeing the present through gyrations of mind. When I read, I pretty much lose the world entirely.
This inherent penchant for distraction, for escaping the present....Is it a tool for our transcendence? Or a hindrance to it?
Even as I wonder about this, another answer suggests itself. Transcendence may be neither a matter of dwelling stubbornly in the present, nor escaping the present into other states of mind.
Perhaps freedom lies in the simple awareness of both faculties.
Awareness itself...there's a subject worthy of serious wonderment.