All the lives we could live

Take off. Photo Credit: Matt Slocum/AP

Take off. Photo Credit: Matt Slocum/AP

We’re all in transit, constantly moving- feet, bicycle, car, train, streetcar, bus, airplane, boat, freighter, wagon, stroller, piggyback, rickshaw, motorcycle, moped, scooter, horse- mostly with wheels. This is how we get around, find ourselves  transported from place to place. And even when we are sitting in our chairs or laying down in our beds sleeping, we are moving too- through our treams or the journeys of people in our books, the rush of blood in our veins, a transportation of nutrients and oxygen, constant movement of atoms solid, liquid, and gas.

People didn’t used to travel this fast. They stayed in their towns, some even never leaving their own homes. They worked their own land, made their own food, rarely bought food off shelves, and could tell the time of day by the position of the sun. Today we are able to traverse a whole city in one day, be in the proximity of millions of people. We can travel to San Diego or Bellingham in under two hours. We can be in an entirely different climate, a different culture, be speaking a different language before it is possible to even blink. We can talk and see our loved ones thousands of miles away by looking through a screen. The world is becoming smaller while we are able to move faster every day. Around the world in 80 days is no longer an impressive feat.

I think all these things, this constant movement, as I sit on my hard plastic seat. Soon I have a seat-mate and then dozens of others get on, standing, holding onto the balance beam. The process is the same each time- I get on, step up, and then an hour later I have traversed a few streets and am transported across town. A stream of people getting on and off, replacing each other as they each reach their destination. Hundreds, thousands of people transporting themselves this way, sitting in the same seats over and over again for the same purpose- to get on in one place and get off at another.

I step back and watch this process again and again, sometimes purposely missing my subway or lightrail tran to watch the process. Sometimes it seems to be on fast forward- a few riders step forward, more of them step back, the train halts, doors open, some get off and some get on, and the vehicle is still. Then the people stop moving, just waiting. The doors close with a squeak and a clatter, a hush, then the car moves on. It slowly increases its speed, but strangely the people inside remain perfectly still, some walking slowly down the car. It is one of the grand mysteries of this world- how we can remain still but move at 50 mph at the same time. We do it every day.

But most times it is up to us, this transportation. Taking advantage of our two legs. Letting one foot fall in front of the other- a predictable pattern. And then we eventually get there, where we want to go. The store, work, a coffee shop, maybe nowhere in particular. But we can walk as well.

On a pretty regular basis, I find myself marveling at this regular transport of people- to and from. We can pass by many and travel hundreds of miles in a single day but know less than one percent of the people we see every day. Probably. It’s just a guess. We share the world, our street, even a seat with so many people we have never met, never will say hi to. Why is this the way this world is? The introductory quote in a book I recently read struck me hard, its profound reality, its mystery, its truth:

“All the lives we could live, all the people we will never know, never will be, they are everywhere. That is what the world is.”
-Alexsandar Hemon-

That is what the world is- billions of people moving, in transit, making their way. Maybe we will be fortunate enough to know a few hundred, to even just say hi, to smile at a few thousand as we whiz by on our way to the next appointment. Maybe even a million will see us or read our words. Sometimes we crash into a stranger, someone unknown who becomes a friend or even just a seatmate companion for an hour. Or sometimes, in unfortunate circumstances, friends become strangers. But the best we can do is just keep moving, making our own ways through this twisted world, transporting ourselves to the next destination. Sometimes, in the midst of all this speed and movement, all of the colors that blur into a faceless rainbow, it helps to pause for a moment, to let our blood flow but let our legs and minds slow down. Embrace the journey. Or, if we are really bold, just let the next destination find us.

New York City by Donncha O Caoimh of

New York City by Donncha O Caoimh of


5 thoughts on “All the lives we could live

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