My favorite thing about living in New York is the Subway system. It is vibrant, full of characters, and loaded with surprises. It is all potential energy bursting into kinetic. It’s the city in a nutshell. People are dancing, begging, loitering, sleeping. I even saw a woman weeping on the train last week. Another woman was belting out this Portuguese Opera Ballad that I didn’t understand but nearly brought me to tears.
I had a long day yesterday. A great day, but a long one. By nine thirty, having been out for thirteen hours, I was ready to be home. Nothing is as beautiful as a satisfying Subway ride home after a wonderful day. It is a special kind of infuriating to experience a terrible Subway ride home after a wonderful day.
Yesterday, I got the latter. For some reason, which I’m sure will forever remain a mystery, the trains were not coming as often as normal. The last transfer I needed to make was just one stop from home. I stood on the platform, enjoying the Subway aura (in spite of the smell), waiting on my train. It didn’t come. I waited more. It didn’t come. I looked at my watch; it was 9:45. A train came through that was out of service. I cursed under my breath and waited.
A garbled message came over the speakers, worse than trying to order something at a drive thru. I tried to squint my ears to hear what they were saying. ‘Because….delay…..local….venience…track…’
“What?!” I mumbled angrily. The people around me started to stir as well.
I waited and I waited. And the train never came. I mean, I’m sure it did. But I had given up waiting. I left the station and took the much longer walk to our apartment.
On my way home, I cursed and grumbled about the Subway and its flaws. My favorite thing about the city had treated me unfairly! I felt betrayed. Overdramatic, I know. But I was supremely tired and annoyed.
As annoyed as I was, it felt so great to finally be home. This too, as they say, had passed.
Every thing I have ever done has followed the same pattern as this experience on the Subway. I start out with optimism and appreciation. After time, the allure wears off and the negativity, the pessimism, starts to take over – especially after an incident or two of unexpected conflict or suffering. When this happens, I can either give up or persevere.
Oddly, I did both last night. As I was walking home, I heard the train speed by through the grate on the street. I shook my head in annoyance. Had I stuck it out and persevered in my waiting, I would have made it home sooner than I did.
On the other hand, getting home was the real agenda, not falling in love with the Subway. In that regard, I made my choice and persevered through the annoyance by taking control over my own journey rather than grumbling about the Subway system and the ill way it was treating me.
We spend so much time trying to avoid that middle phase of our journey – the pit of despair. But it is as inevitable as an MTA delay. Once we encounter the sorrow we dreaded, we are often weirdly addicted to it. Suffering presents two threats – it either scares us off our path or it shackles us in its sorrow.
It doesn’t have to do either. When we can persevere through the inevitable challenges of our journey, neither giving the suffering too much power nor ignoring its value, intimacy and strength of character are developed. It makes the destination much more sweeter. It makes the journey deeper. It makes us stronger.
As I said at the top, I never wanted to be home more in my life. Our vision is the strongest motivator we have to propel us through difficulty. It helps keep our perspective on the positive truth: That life is an adventure, intimacy develops in despair, and sorrow is just one of the ingredients of success.