Companions for the Commute

Even though I don't know any of the people I normally ride the train with--any facts about them I've learned has come from conversations I've overheard--they are all familiar to me. I know who are Cubs fans and who are the Sox fans; I know who spends the time reading books and who watched Hulu; I can differentiate those who are going to UIC (they are easy to pick out) from recent graduates, entering the workforce for the first time. I can even tell how long people have been commuting. The people I travel with are familiar to me. In a sense, they are like a family.

But when I took a late train the other day, it felt weird. I didn't recognize anyone: I was on a train with strangers. I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat relieved when I encountered a friend of mine. We spent the trip catching up and sharing stories.

When the train pulled into Union Station, he said, "Thanks for making the train ride not so lonely."

His statement made me realize something that I often forget: I am never alone, even on a train with unfamiliar people. Here are four ways to remember that you always have travelling companions:

  • Think about the microbiome. The human body contains 30 trillion human cells; it contains 39 trillion bacterial cells. We are less persons than we are ecosystems. I am a walking, talking, breathing community. I am not one; I am a multitude.
  • Make a connection. Loneliness might be thought of as a lack of connection between yourself and others. Make a connection with simple acts of kindness and courtesy. A smile here, a "Hello" there is all that you need to make a connection with other people.
  • Offer prayers. Everyone is suffering in some way. If you pay attention, you might notice how people are struggling. You might overhear a someone complaining or notice their anxiety in their body language. Offer a prayer for that person. "Lord, bless this person with health, harmony, happiness, and peace" is a simple mantra that I repeat for the people I encounter along the way.
  • Give thanks. Sometimes I witness something that makes me laugh or fills me with joy. I might witness--or be the recipient of--a random act of kindness. Give thanks for those moments. You'll realize that the entire commute is a gift.

Loneliness is simply a function of your awareness. When you take the time to notice the community around you--and within you--you'll see that you are never alone: you are part of a community of shared hopes and dreams. Once you see yourself as part of a community, love will naturally follow.