To be alone in a crowd is just one of a thousand-and-one ironies that populate our little everyday lives. Socrates wrote about it…Gandhi spoke of it….so did Michael Jordan whenever he rode the CTA.
On average, so also do 43,000 Chicagoans every month. With the largest numbers of us traveling on lines like King Drive, Halsted, Madison, Clark, Western, 79th, and Kimball-Homan. And while it’s not very likely many of us get on to be alone, somehow we see to it we are. The way most riders put it: “I don’t want any trouble. So I avoid all eye contact.”
So here we are, 43,000 bodies often just inches apart, ricocheting into one another with each turn and stop. Making it even harder to be alone out there is an infantry of 3600 surveillance cameras along every route. Violent crime and theft have sometimes grown with each added year and mile.
What makes this irony so, well, so ironic, is these clattering, congested rides may actually be the only real alone time most of us have in a day. Pricey excursions to Tibetan gurus are hardly practical. Besides, they didn’t do the Beatles any observable good when they tried it. And although Transcendental Weekends at Thoreau’s Walden Pond are cheaper, they can’t promise any more than the gurus.
Still, by the cosmic law of use-it-or-lose-it, we CTA riders have some serious work to do.
If there’s anything Americans prize it’s results. No payoff, why do it? Might the same then be said of our next ride on the CTA. This notion of using alone time for personal enhancement has long been steeped in Jewish, Christian and Buddhist tradition. For all the ornate vestments, incense and singing, each prizes the art of solitude, centering, and meditation.
Think of it this way. Surveys show that 44% of all CTA riders own cars. So why do we still take the CTA? To avoid traffic, sure. But perhaps in our clamoring, chaotic times we intuitively crave the great warm silences of our frontier history… our childhood tree huts and cloud studies….our quiet moonlit nights when we first knew he or she was the one.
Lets be frank. Neither the Mayor nor the CTA is encouraging riders to become part of a spiritual renaissance. And yet, who among our 43,000 monthly legion has not zoned out in the midst of so many? It constitutes an almost reflexive response to the situation. While remaining alert to the recurring threats of theft, bizarre behavior, and strange smells, we have mastered the act of disappearing into ourselves each jostled morning and night.
Now all we have to do is do it with intent. Intentionally focusing on what there may be tucked deep inside our own silent spaces. The good, the bad, and all that stuff in between. Carl Sandburg loved our Chicago, and while he never wrote any poetry about the CTA, he did ride it a few times. Perhaps those rides were what inspired this thought: “One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude.”
Just one warning. Please don’t be one of those riders who waits at the head of the line to find the right change…..
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