I want to preface this by commenting on the universality of the human condition. The other day I was chuckling (chuckling? Honestly, I don’t chuckle, let’s say I was laughing) about the shamelessness of people on public transit in big cities.
It’s rather absurd when you think about it. Take subways for example, it’s not unusual to see the most unusual expressions of humanity, staring at you queerly from across the car or literally swinging from the poles. Though, more often, you’ll see someone crying quietly, tears staining their rouged cheeks, or overhear someone chattering on the phone about a personal problem their experiencing at home. Heated gossip, sweaty, stressed yuppies late for work, parents disciplining their children, smelly people, old people, lots of tears and sometimes just stiff, awkward silence. The subways expose it all.
I find this very amusing. In few other scenarios, do we see raw reality surface and rear its ugly head in such a shameless manner. When we step onto that tram, car or bus, we step on in acceptance and preparation of the reality we’re about to witness. We step on knowing that the truth of the human condition is that it’s damn messy. And in a strangely beautiful way, we affirm this condition to share in it for a short time, perhaps just 3 stops, together. Life is a circus - one big freaky circus. And we’re all the freaks of the show.
While we’re riding public transit, it’s reassuring to know that we’re not alone in our experience. Even the most painful and awkward times of our lives, have been shared by someone, somewhere on public transit. We all have our moments of struggle, sadness, anxiety, triumph, and calm. What you see on the subway is the concentrated theatrics of the human condition, of your life and mine.
We all experience craziness in our lives. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m regularly crazy. It’s recurrent enough that I probably have some genetic tendency towards neuroticism. And I say that not to victimize myself or to blame my crazy on anything outside of my control, but to illuminate the palpability of it. At times, I can be the kind of crazy that one reflects on and says to themselves, “Well, that was just really stupid.”
It’s difficult to reflect on our crazy without a tinge of regret or disappointment. But just because our emotional experience isn’t aligned with our desired reality doesn’t mean that our actions are out of our control. Although I say that with one exception: when it’s that time of the month (in which case I excuse myself because that shit hits me like a Hyperloop train in the dark). Even during our crazy we can take the actions we want to take and we can move forward.
Let’s go back to the subway. Ultimately, all those crazy people on the subway are going somewhere. Despite their crazy today – the tears, the anxiety, the frustration – they stepped across the gap in the platform and onto the car. That’s the beauty of it. Showing up in our rawness, in our imperfection, is investing in our future. Despite our crazy, we can get where we’re going. And we are reassured by the fact that we are not the first person to step onto subway exhibiting what we’re experiencing, that we’re all in this together. That the reality of the human condition is accepting the present in order to live into the future.
You have permission to be imperfect and real. With that permission, you can move forward. To the person who just got dumped and is blubbering in the back seat, kudos to you. You’re on your way to wherever you need to go next, despite your current form crazy.
I drew this connection this morning, as I lay in my bed agonising about the day. I lay in bed anxiously, not wanting to get up and face my reality. But it hit me, I had to
Just show up
I leapt out of bed with those three words in my mind, and went first straight to the kettle to prep the water for the French press. Step 1: Coffee. That was it, that was all I needed to know in that moment. In my heart, I knew that all I had to do was the next thing, to take the next step. That my bed was the platform and my day was the tram. That I had to leave the platform to move forward on the tram - I had to leave the bed to move forward with my day. It was as simple as that. The reality of the human condition is accepting the present in order to live into the future.
Every now and then, I completely shut down. If I were a computer, I would be crashing. It’s a form of crazy triggered by overwhelm and it usually lasts anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days. It happens frequently enough that it stalls my ability to progress and disrupts my life’s momentum. And when it passes, I often reflect and I say to myself, “Well, that was just really stupid.” But what I’ve learned is, instead of shaming myself, to accept this messy reality. My truth is imperfect, just as your truth is imperfect. We all suffer from inadequacies. The real test is whether we choose to show up despite these inadequacies. Do you choose to step across the platform? Do you choose to just show up?
You can kick and cry and scream the whole way there – life sometimes sucks like that – and that’s fine, what matters is that you get there. We must get where we’re going because life demands that of us. We mustn’t hide away in stagnancy. Show up knowing that you have permission to be imperfect, because we all are. Know that to get where you’re going only takes two things:
The first step or “showing up”
By showing up, despite what you’re experiencing, you’re making the choice to move into your future.
With that, I want to end with a quote that’s been shifting my life in powerful ways. I first heard it through Brené Brown, from a review of her book ,“Daring Greatly”, which shares many similar sentiments to this post. It goes like this,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
- Theodore Roosevelt