Mind Matters — The Human Condition Connects Us

Riding on the subway—called the “T” in Boston—the other day, I looked around at all the faces, the feet, the eyes, the shapes, the clothes, the hair. We are all packed together, elbows and hips crammed in narrow seats and jammed standing too. I muse that it would be hard to believe in anything but in inclusivity and the commonality of being human.

There is hardly anything more than egalitarian than being squeezed into a subway car together—skin color, hair styles, how many tattoos or piercings, Italian leather shoes or flip flops or heavy boots, size, age—makes no difference. We are all in this dilemma together with one goal in mind—getting to our destination. What little priority seating there is is designated for the disabled or the elderly. Money doesn’t buy privilege here. In that sense it is much more comforting ironically to be on a subway than it is to be on an airplane.

Queueing up for boarding an airplane these days is straight out of Gary Shteyngart’s novel, Super Sad True Love Story, in which people’s net worth is publicly announced. That is just about what happens at every airport now. The first class passengers board and the pecking order continues from “Platinum” members and finally to the persons with the large number five listed on their boarding passes—the end of the line for those who haven’t paid their way into the status club.

Back to the subway. She if only it car was truly the inclusive microcosm of our nation. True, in that underground tube, we are all anonymous and mostly everyone keeps to themselves. Yet, if there were an accident or some sort of stoppage on the train, ten to one, the sardine can of people would become an instant and intentional community. People would be helping each other.

There is, in most people, an innate sense of care. We connect with the human condition when we recognize others less as “others” and more like “us.”

This fact struck me at a jobsite recently too. My work brings me to places where people are struggling with sudden death. Lately, I have been consulting where a co-worker has died tragically—not in accidents on the job, but in car crashes or suicides. I don’t meet with the families of the deceased but with their colleagues who are also grieving. Friend and co-worker grief is often disenfranchised. Yet, the people we work with are very much a part of our lives—we see them every day. We may also play and recreate with them too. You might say our co-workers become a situational family, given how much time can be spent together.

Older employees may consider younger employees their surrogate sons and daughter and worry about how the loss of a peer will affect them. The younger employees may never have experienced sudden loss and the workplace becomes their first encounter with the pain of grief.

If we didn’t connect to others and create community, we, I suppose, would not experience grief. Yet, how truly sad that would be! For as difficult as loss is, it is the human condition to make connection and community wherever we are. We need it to live.