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Elena Kaufman Headshot

The Commuter's Art of Doing Nothing

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Drive past five streets. Walk two blocks. Sit on the train for 50 minutes. Ride the subway four stops. Each piece of my commute can be broken down into distance traveled and time spent in transit. 90 minutes of commuting a day times five days a week times 365 days a year equals an insane and -- depending on your point of view -- depressing amount of time spent sitting and standing in between point A and point B.

I could spend the 90 minutes thinking about all of the things I would be doing if I wasn't standing in a moving enclosed space. Or I could just sit back and accept the fact that the distance is, indeed, 90 minutes and move on.

Those minutes, after all, are 90 guaranteed minutes to myself. Yes, I might not get a seat, and, yes, the subway car might not have air conditioning, but, no matter what, when I'm between destinations, no one has any claim to my time. I don't have to call anyone (poor cell service). I don't have to answer any emails (again, cell service). I don't have to be anywhere (I can't, I'm trying to get to the place I'm going anyway). I don't have to talk to anyone. I just get to sit or stand. In whatever space the subway car will allow me today.

If I'm having a day where I need to block out the fact that I'm far away from dinner, my bed and Netflix, I'll do that with music or a book. But if I'm having a regular day or the thought of reaching for my headphones is too daunting, I take a few minutes to look at the people around me.

There are people shuffling between yoga classes, others carrying overstuffed brown paper Trader Joe's bags, students in black suits traveling to and from summer internships, tourists toting oversized black Canons and creased maps. Every outfit and accessory offers new insight into another life. One that has nothing to do with me and is somehow so close to my life right now -- we are traveling, if not to the same place, in the same direction. But where is that direction taking them? How do they feel about being sardined in this subway car with the rest of us? Are they angry about time wasted or grateful for a few minutes of doing nothing in between what is otherwise a standard over-scheduled day?

Standing on the subway with them won't give me these answers, but it will give me time to think. Time to consider the other people who occupy the same physical space I do. Time to remember that there is a world outside of my small life. Once the car stops and the doors open, that's it. We filter back into the shuffle of our lives. Until then, these minutes are mine. My time do nothing with all of the other people doing nothing in the same subway car as me.

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