Upon reflection, there’s a beauty about being anonymous, and lost in a city, even though there’s a similar amount of inner crisis that ensues observing people moving so freely and knowingly. It is quite the paradox, and difficult to explain, but something that must be felt.
First and foremost, being totally alone and overwhelmed provides myself at least, with the opportunity to be precisely who I am. By this, I mean instances and occasions of human interaction, where your innermost personality can be shown by the way in which you deal with such a situation. For example, you’re late to work, marginally. Five minutes at the most, and you’re panicking. On the platform of the Underground, noticing the yellow writing on the display boards tick down.
Boarding the train ordinarily, you’re suddenly consumed by that subliminal yet constant ‘what am I actually doing here? No, really, what is it that I’m contributing, to myself (how is this helping me?) and to the world. In the great scheme of things, how is my journey going to change anything?’ The tube is a coffin of thoughts. You’re buried alive, with no phone signal, with only your thoughts for company unless you’re a lucky one. So, you’re bound to think of these types of questions, about what it is you’re doing. It’s a simple and almost meaningless question, perhaps even impossible to answer, but thinking about it isn’t necessarily going to change anything, but it may open up a few options.
Underpinning the journey is the grime. The subtle dirt around you that you’re aware of, which gets under your fingernails from the escalator and the almost fluorescent yellow handlebars as you hurtle down the pitch-black tubes filled with rats, and the feint hum of electricity. It’s somewhat surreal, that dirt and blackness can get under your skin, just as complex thoughts can be so intrusive into your body. You shrug it off. Wash your hands and your face at the toilet. Shit. Another thirty seconds to the journey time, and thirty pence to keep a cleaner in a job. Supposing that thirty pence hand-wash does indeed keep somebody’s job, it’s a worthwhile investment.
(What am I doing here?)
Trudging up the steps is a daily routine, the suited and booted rushing past you with their over exaggerated sense of self-importance. They’re earning themselves a lot of money, an incomprehensible amount. I suppose that’s what matters to them, and that’s good, isn’t it? But who knows, some of them could be on their way to a job interview, a meagre manager of a restaurant or hotel. You simply never know. The whole affair is anonymous. That’s what’s daunting about this type of place: the hidden millionaires, the hidden poor, the kind, religious, the hideous, murderers. They’re out there, but hidden. Then, there’s yourself. You’re simply earning a living, innocently comparing hand washing to the questions of life. How simple it is. C’est la vie.
A woman crying. She stops you dead in your tracks, forgetting all sense of time and awareness for everything going on around you; it’s as if Moses has parted the sea of people between you and the lady, and so you feel compelled to intervene; how you react and respond to this scenario. That is who you are. That is the important thing about being alone in a sea of people, an ocean of personality, love and lust, selfishness and selflessness.
Option one. Indeed, you’re unaware of this woman’s story, who she is, what series of events has brought her into your path, and too, what has made her tear. But, that does not stop you from going over, noticing her shiver and so handing over your coat entirely selflessly, draping the wool over her slender and pale shoulders. You demand to go for coffee, to make sure this woman that has been identified to you in an almost unworldly type of way is in control and okay. A somewhat bizarre surge of courage and uncertainty possesses your body. You’re unaware of whether you’ll be able to survive skipping a shift at work, but making sure another, fellow and normal human is surviving is surely more important?
Option two. You arrive for work on time, and the image of her tears caressing her face stay to haunt you for a little while, as if it’s a nightmare that you cannot do anything about. That’s the point. You haven’t helped her. You have been selfish, and so you must pay. An old cliché, what goes around comes around. You cannot live so fruitfully that you become disenfranchised with the humanness of people, with the raw emotion that death and sadness, happiness and birth provoke.
And so day to day, reaching the same spot, the top of the stairs with the slight whiff of real air and natural light, where you witnessed one of the most innate human actions which impacted you so profoundly, you can be reminded that is who you are. You choose not to act, when you could have. How you react to events independently signals who you are, in whichever scenario. It is not with friends, as you’ve grown accustomed to them, and a new type of normal has been created. It is entirely independently and individually that a type of meaning can be established.