The in-between: The joys of commuting

Thoughts and memories on a bus ride.

I probably won’t remember this bus ride. And you probably won’t remember that train you missed yesterday morning, or the walk you took your dogs on a couple days ago, when you noticed that the jacarandas had started blooming. 

But it is these forgotten moments that texture the fabric of your life. They may not sing in your memory, but they colour the ordinariness of your day. That’s how I think about my commute. As George Eliot said, “What novelty is worth that sweet monotony, where everything is known and loved because it is known?”

We all suffer the indifference of time; something that could never be captured in the ticking of a clock, or the regular beating of a heart. Time is always either too early, stealing you into the next morning before the night feels through, or too late, trapping you in the space between the seconds it clings to. But time can’t be fickle while you’re commuting – it can’t keep up. In a moment where you may feel so inert and inactive, you’re also constantly moving. Stillness and pace coalesce. Time forgets itself.  

These may be minutes or even hours you’ll never get back, as the train shoots through tunnels, or the bus swerves around narrow corners, or the plane screams through the sky.  While I sit here, I watch everybody huddled together on this crowded bus, sharing their aloneness, their eyes boring into the backs of each other’s headrests or out the window collectively not thinking, thoughts blurring together like the headlights through the window against the sky, its blue deepening like the evening. This patient interstice could be one of waiting, or of simply watching. And what makes all the difference is what’s on the other side. Or what you imagine there to be. 

We all wish time away. Whether it be this bus ride, or the week before that party on Saturday night, that party itself before you get to go home, the years before you can move out, get a job, start your life. But your life does not start when you attain that transient object which is ever absent, when you arrive at some abstract satisfaction that’s always changing its face. That’s more illusory, more constructed, than time itself. 

At some point you’ll look back on that walk, or that holiday, or that degree as if it were one compressed memory, when in fact any experience of something is a collection of tiny thoughts, moments in-between memory, forgotten as they happen. Tasting the humidity when you leave your house to go to work, watching the pavement glisten after a light shower of rain and being thankful you remembered your umbrella as you race to that appointment, feeling the air between your hands and his hands as they swung side by side, almost touching, walking home from school. 

So maybe I never want this bus ride to end. So that everything will always be in front or behind me, and I will be in-between the times in my life. I can just watch the trees go by and listen to The Beatles and look up at the sky and think, or not think, of everything and nothing, of him and of me, together and separate, and leave all sense of time and responsibility and pain on either end of this trip that has no end. 

Maybe I often take this trip in my mind. I’m sure you do too. You hold onto things and fixate on them or relive moments, you let your thoughts spiral into a time that never was or never will be, you remove yourself from the present. You let yourself roam in the almost. A purely imagined space, an unreal time. And as your memories forget you, you don’t have to deal with tomorrow, or yesterday. You escape today, and until you get off that bus, you are never really anywhere. 

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