Commuting to New York is the bane of my existence, as I imagine it would be for anyone who similarly suffers the mind-numbing isolation of sitting pretty on a train for hours at a time. My twice daily trek between the Jersey Shore & Manhattan is an arduous one; I spend nearly four hours getting to and from New York. When you add it all up, that’s 22.5 hours per week, 90 hours per month, and 1,080 hours per year. As much as I cherish my proximity to the sea, commuting from where I live is not a breeze.
My commute is an earthly hell that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Yet despite the cold resentment it’s brewed in me, it can be a slight meditative experience at times. At times, we pass through layers of leaves which rapidly blur into a woodland menagerie. Walls of green encapsulate us in a vision streaming forth. Trees and vines enshroud the shores that lead to the sea and alluring possibilities of escape. In some moments, phones are put down while curious eyes peer out to the horizon, longing for freedom from the stationary. In the morning, sunlight touches our skin and kisses our eyelids— a teasable return to consciousness. In the evening, dreamlike sunsets tell me I’ll be home soon.
The way we rush past scenery in nature whilst on a train mirrors the way our commute forces us to rush past the scenery in our natural lives. At home with family and friends. But beneath our grievances is a slightly soothing truth: I’m not the only one who sacrifices precious time and money to travel day in, day out. It’s calming to know that I share my commute with others.
Our collective nature to commiserate is in some ways a blessing. When I step onto the train early in the morning and see rough and familiar faces, my aching body exhales a sigh of relief that I’m not alone. It’s more than a gesture of coffee and pastries. Something in the morning air unites our consciousness, allowing sparkles of comfort to proliferate our daily travels.
Though no one speaks, I’ve grown somewhat attached to my company. I wonder what everyone does for a living, how long they’ve been commuting for, and if they ever think about me. When I notice someone is missing in the morning or heading home, I wonder what might have happened. Perhaps they missed their train, or were working late. Or maybe they quit their job or got a new one. Better yet, perhaps they saved enough money or received a promotion that allowed them to move closer to their work.
By the end of the day, it’s painful knowing we share more time with each other riding a train than we do with our loved ones. It’s unfathomable that some people have been doing this for years. But there’s still something delicate about sharing an experience that requires us to relinquish much control of our lives. For as long as I must bare NJ transit, I’m thankful for the people who make the trek just a bit more comfortable.
Featured image by Jörg Schubert.