A New [York] Kind of Loneliness

by P. Braithwaite

A funny thing happened on the way to the acupuncturist. [PS: I am loving acupuncture, but that’s another post.] I got on the 6 train heading uptown, and there was absolutely no one in my train car. At all.

Usually, when you walk into an empty train car, you are assaulted by the smell of a homeless person sleeping underneath the seat or something. By then, the train doors slide closed and you are stuck in a car with just you and a sleeping, smelly, homeless dude until the next stop. You always think to yourself, “The car was damn near empty, I should’ve known…”

Anyway, this was different. It was about 10 am and there was no stench, no mysterious puddles, nothing. The car was completely empty as I sat down and looked around. Needless to say, I was a bit uncomfortable.

Those of you NOT from New York are probably a bit confused. Why wouldn’t you be relieved to be free from all those people packed on top of you? In response I have three words: I don’t know.

I don’t know why I wasn’t relieved, but absolutely hate being on train cars alone, or being on completely deserted streets for that matter. Something about being completely alone in public makes me feel vulnerable to attack. Quiet + Public Space = zombie attack. And that’s the strange thing about NYC — the place where tourists claim you can die in the middle of the street and people won’t notice – you are hardly ever alone. There’s a strange comfort in being surrounded by others. Even if you basically live your life ignoring them.

In NYC we ride shoulder to shoulder and we don’t make eye contact. We live in boxes stacked on top of each other — at any given moment you could be standing directly above someone’s head (this is even true on the street). Energetically we are all connected – an amorphous blob. No wonder we don’t make eye contact if we don’t have to. New Yorkers all share the same pulse. We know we’re connected; no need to call attention to it with pleasantries and needless smiling. 😉

So as I sat in this desolate train car, I started thinking about how much comfort we find in others. And, more interestingly, how much comfort we find in uncomfortable situations. I asked myself: are you more comfortable in a crowed train car than you are alone?

After thinking about this for a while I chalked it up to the idea that anything new (or unexpected) can be uncomfortable. I also decided that people, in their most basic sense, are tiny mirrors through which we see ourselves. Even the smelly homeless man provides an image of who I think I am (and conversely who I think I am not). So if we take people away, especially if their ALWAYS around, what’s left? Isn’t it harder to know who I am?

And, as always, this train of thought always rolled around to the idea of toxic relationships and limiting circumstances. How much more comfortable am I on a crowded subway car with annoying people, than I am being in communion with myself? How does that comfort keep me small and “comfortably” uncomfortable? Why is being alone so effing scary?

This was all too deep for 10 am on a Tuesday, but I pondered this for another three minutes when the doors opened at 14th street and people flooded in. I was a little relieved but I thought to myself: maybe that’s how life works; If you’re brave (or dumb) enough to  step into loneliness and wait awhile… eventually company shows up….