A couple of days ago, with time to kill in the vicinity of the Decarie Expressway, I found myself wondering what would come of standing above it and watching the traffic for a while.
Immediately, I felt a rush in seeing the cars and trucks below shooting away as if blown from a supersonic cannon. I marvelled at how exciting the simple, everyday pace of our lives can be. And desperate, too. So little time given to us, so much to do. Everyone with different destinations day to day, in vehicles that mark our individuality with make and colour and price tag. Everyone with the same ultimate destination. We ride alongside one another. We choose or are given space from one another. And most of the time, we occupy ourselves with the day-to-day, and postpone thoughts about the ultimate. As it should be, perhaps.
The video clip below runs a minute or so. Perhaps you too might experience the rush, and find your own reflections in it.
And then, later that day. I’m riding the 161 bus out of Mile End, the old world meets new world neighbourhood where I’m living.
“Go! Canadiens! Go!” says the sign on the bus. And well it should. The Habs will be going into game seven that night against Boston (and, ultimately, pull off an upset with grit, goaltending and classic Montreal Canadiens speed).
But the exclamation points are a marked contrast against the bus ride.
It’s a warm day, the bus is full, not moving very fast, and I feel my nostrils habitually, almost involuntarily, making an aperture adjustment to filter out the odour of a day’s worth of jostling humanity. And then I stop. I want to feel this in my nose. It’s not a pleasant smell, but it’s the smell of shared experience.
At the front of the bus is an Orthodox Jewish man with a black kippah, and closer to me, a younger one with a beatnik’s beard and a designer variation on tie-dye. There’s a black man in front of me in a jean suit (kind enough to defer to me when a seat becomes available) and another, not far behind him, in a glistening, silver suit, while towards the front, a young black girl in pigtails conjures associations with Norman Rockwell’s civil rights paintings. A woman with a beautiful profile; a man across the aisle distractedly keeping time to an imagined drum beat with a water bottle, slapping it again the place where neck and shoulder meet. A young woman who I think is Russian can’t help from laughing at the antics of a couple of pre-adolescent schoolmates. I want to tell the girl with the blue hair, out-of-season woolen socks and a knapsack with an “Are you dead yet?” decal that she is beautiful, because I suspect she has no idea.
And we are without our masks. We are not acting for colleagues or friends or family. We are just ourselves, pensive, contemplative, not wearing exclamation marks. We don’t seem to be especially happy or sad, but we are reflecting at the end of a long day, which may be falling upon the end of a long week, a long year, a hard life.
I don’t only want to see what I’m seeing, though. I want to do something with it. So I tell myself that, when in the future, the conduct of people is other than I would like and I am tempted to act with impatience or indifference, that I will try instead to remember this shared journey.