are commuters in danger of losing their humanity?
I am writing this, quite fittingly, on the train. My train – our train. After three weeks catching the 7.13 I began to feel like we were bonding: the old MD’s resplendent with panamas and briefcases, young-gun salesmen in their loafers, middle-aged men and women sporting technical outerwear and a hiking backpack with collapsible umbrella stowed safely in a side pocket, prepared for the unpredictable London monsoon season and rough terrain.
Every day, myself and all these corporate minions scuttle out of our overpriced houses in the leafy suburbs, hop aboard our overpriced train, and begin to avidly delete our spam inbox of viagra offers and Thai relationship introductions. As a gang we’d been through a lot together: stamped in collective frustration at signal failure, got intimate on the 18.36 from London Waterloo, and watched each other sleep peacefully on the early morning train.
But something happened the other day which made me feel that I’m maybe not ready to join this new species. ‘What new species’, I hear you ask? My theory is that ‘the Commuter’, represents an offshoot of the common homo sapien. Morphed by long hours, inadequate exercise and a highly complex mindset and ethical system, the Commuter is in danger of losing its way. As I stood on my platform in the morning sun, contemplating what a fabulous day it was to be alive, news came over the tanoy of a trespasser on the track. There were sighs, shakes of head, and yes I admit I was also a tad frustrated. For all we knew the trespasser may have been seriously hurt, but happy (or angry) in our blissful ignorance, we all got very righteous on our comfortable high ground.
But then, disaster struck. Another trespasser on the line, and we were soon informed by a grave station master that this was a fatality. Cue outrage. “So selfish”, I hear people mutter, while a blonde lady behind me is berating the poor staff at Southwest Trains: ‘if we had it my way we’d run every one of them over…’, in clipped, public-schooled tones. Commuters scuttled back to their parked BMW 3 Series, desperately seeking an alternative way to get into work.
And I find myself thinking; is it really that important? That email you just can’t wait to send, or that meeting which will determine…probably nothing at all. Yes the trains won’t move for an hour or two, but the chances of you finding a hugely faster alternative are pretty slim – and all the while it is worth considering some poor sod has just died. Either it was an accident, in which case it is a tragic, unforeseen loss which could feasibly happen to any one of us; or it was suicide, meaning the person had reached such a point of despair that seemingly nothing could make it better. Either way, this awful happening is far more serious than getting a ticking off from the boss who you pretend to like but really think to be an utter jerk: envious and disparaging in equal measure; or losing imaginary favour over that promotion that might allow you to splash out on a Range Rover and join the world’s most pointless fraternity. The person that died was someone’s son or daughter, maybe a father or mother. They were real people, with real emotions.
Next time you are confronted with a death on the tracks obstructing your journey, don’t nod along with the rest of the species and accuse the dead of selfish tendencies; instead think about what you have, and the good you can draw from it. Use the hour delay to go back home and have breakfast with the kids who barely know you, go for a walk and watch the trees sway in the park, call up a friend you’ve lost contact with and go for a drink; because these are the things that make us alive, these are things that a person broken on the tracks can no longer do, and probably wanted to do more than anything else in the lead up to their death.
When considered like this, they are a damn sight more important than missing the morning role call once in a blue moon. It can be tiring, stressful and monotonous, but being a commuter is no excuse to lose your humanity – because that makes us who we are, that makes us alive.