The brusque tangle of New York City is not a chaos; it’s knitted from millions of micro-patterns as people make their daily shuttles across the cityscape. If you have a certain routine to get to work, you will, eventually, see it coordinated with thousands of others, and if you pay enough attention, you will find yourself part of an unintentional community where, if things go a certain way, you may find yourself acknowledging the others with a nod or a smile, familiarity reinforced each day by repetition. You may never (most likely will never) know each other’s names, but you won’t be complete strangers to each other as well: a small buffer against the residential anonymity.
My job commute promises me each day a 15-minute walk from my train station to my desk and then another 15 minutes on the return journey. I’ve discovered my community in the past three years I’ve worked there: the superintendents lugging out enormous garbage bags every other day and hosing down the sidewalks; the store owner who got me the special crackers I liked; the early-morning-shift counter staff at the Dominican bakery; Jeanine who walks her mastiff, Havoc, and Eduardo with his lovely pit bull, Dolly.
And there are the ones who are making the counter-trip to my trip: the Filipino woman with the lovely smile; the woman of a couple who, when the weather is cold, dresses in a sharp red coat with a matching hat; the young Jewish father with two in a stroller, and the young Jewish mother with two in a stroller and a third clinging to the handle; the father and son, with the father wearing a beret at a rakish angle. We smile or nod our heads in a gesture of recognition.
Actually, it’s not quite right about the Jewish parents and their strollers. That was what they were doing when I first saw them. Now, the children are walking and the parents look a bit older and time moves on.
These local habitations move on as well, the avenues and streets on the average looking the same but also more shaved down by traffic and storm, the store owners moving a shade slower as they lay out boxes of plantains—all appearances floating on slow and inevitable tectonics, looking the same but foundationed so differently as time slides.
I’ve been reading Danny Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, and aside from his fascinating investigations about our ramshackle brains, one impression I take away from his work is what contingent creatures we are, never certain of or certified in anything, surviving through elaborate mechanisms of fooling ourselves, and always on the edge of disaster (for us—for the globe, not so much: it will absorb our depredations, just the way it did with massive meteorites, and continue evolving).
So, finding these open patches of the familiar in the briar of the indifferent is a comfort—pathetic, in a way, but still welcome as they push back against the world’s weight, giving us a bit more breathing room and a brief reprieve from fear.
I take the triumphs when I can on my daily amble. They help me make my leaps across the slow-slipping tectonics of the shifting world and get me to my destination in mostly one piece and mostly of one mind about my life.