“The way we spend our days is, of course, the way we spend our lives.” -Annie Dillard
If there’s one thing my awful work commute has done for me, it’s made me grateful. Being grateful is the only way I have been able to mentally survive that commute everyday. My roommates will probably read that sentence and find it hilarious because I hardly seem grateful when I’m talking about it — and yes, they have served as my primary audience when I’ve needed to rant about it at the end of the day, which is often. I love ranting.
Some days I am so tired and the commute is so awful that I almost can’t even stand to open my book. This has happened two or three times. It’s always a combination of things — the weather is bad, people are being loud and obnoxious, one of my connections is delayed, I don’t feel well, there are no seats, the train cars smell — and during those times I literally have to force myself to repeat over and over again the things I am grateful for — the reasons I am making this commute: I am thankful for a job that I love, I tell myself. I am grateful for a paycheck. I am grateful for a wonderful apartment. I am grateful for wonderful roommates. I am grateful for hot showers. For bathmats. For soup. For calendars. For good books. For long weekends. I always think I will run out of things, but I never seem to.
I’ve met so many new people since moving to New York last June and when I mention to them what my job is, they go, “That’s awesome!” and I say, “Yes it is!” and then when they hear about the commute I have to endure everyday they go, “That’s awful!” and I say, “Incorrect!” Well, for the first couple months I would actually agree with them and there would probably be a swear word or two involved. Now I see it differently.
I think the issue is that when we think about how long we spend on our daily commutes, we automatically classify it as time being wasted. I’ve never really heard anyone say, “Oh good! My hour-long commute gives me more time each day to get some reading done.” More time. Time being gained, not time being lost.
I try to think of it like that now. Time gained. I have 1.5 hours to spend on my commute each way — that’s 3 hours per day. 15 hours per week. 15 hours per week that I spent on a train getting from place to place (technically, it’s one train and two subway lines). Some days it’s longer than that — 3 hours is how long it takes if there are no delays, accidents, or acts of God (that’s how I refer to weather now).
I only get a seat on the subways about half the time. I have a seat on the train every morning, but not every evening. This means that sometimes I am able to read, or even work on my laptop, but sometimes it’s so crowded and I’m shoved between so many people that I don’t want to bother trying to balance a book somewhere, so I can only listen to something with my headphones. This means that I am constantly carrying my laptop, a book, a magazine or two, headphones, and whatever else I need on a daily basis between 7am and 7pm — extra clothing, my coffee mug, food, you name it. My back will never be the same.
This time spent in transit has become a sort of personal challenge for me, a chance to see how much I can accomplish with this specific amount of time and these imperfect conditions that I don’t have any choice but to deal with.
So far since making this commute for 5 months I have read over 20 books, dozens and dozens of magazines, and who knows how many blog posts. I’ve written handfuls of guest posts or freelance articles. I’ve written most of the recent posts for this blog on the train. I’ve made doctor’s appointments, paid bills, written thank you notes, written postcards, written birthday cards, shopped for snow boots, compiled grocery lists, talked on the phone to friends, caught up with work, caught up with sleep, researched weekend plans, looked up recipes, drafted e-mails, organized the photos on my phone, taken two e-courses, put books on hold at the library, ordered dinner for delivery, tried to figure out my credit card bill… I’ve even made a friend! (rare for me)
Basically, I have tried not to let this time go to waste. If it’s true that the way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives, and if it’s true that the way I’ll be spending my days for the foreseeable future is commuting for hours on a train each week, then whatever I choose to do during those 780 hours per year is a crucial indicator of the type of life I’m going to have.
I am writing this on the train right now, and it just started to snow for the first time this year and I forgot to wear a hat, scarf, gloves, or waterproof shoes. The person sitting behind me is listening to music on her headphones so loudly that I can’t ignore it, and she keeps kicking my seat every few minutes. I am grateful for a seat on the train today, I keep telling myself. I am grateful for wool tights lined with fleece. I am grateful for dinner, especially the delicious dinner that my roommate is going to make for us tonight, just because she wants to do something nice. I am grateful.