I love the act of traveling. I’m not talking about the places I travel to – that’s a whole separate thing – I’m talking about the actual act of taking a plane or a train – the act of moving from one place to another along with a few hundred strangers. For a few hours we are together in the airplane’s cabin or the railroad car. We don’t really speak to each other, with the possible exception of the person next to us. Yet, we are in each other’s presence, our energies merging in one confined place. And then we arrive and we all disperse back into our own lives. For those brief hours our lives are suspended between somewhere and somewhere else.
We travel for different reasons. For family – to celebrate births and unions or we travel to say goodbye and grieve. We travel for business or for pleasure, a vacation for which we’ve been saving up for years. We travel with hopes, fears and expectations. Or we have gone and are now going home, filled with stories, contentment, disappointment or even dread. For whatever reasons we travel, these are shared human experiences, and I believe the act of traveling, of moving in unison, can intensify our shared experience.
There is no doubt, travel can be exasperating. The too slow family in the aisle not able to figure out where to put their luggage. The loud guy who tries to make the attendant laugh with old jokes that are not funny. The woman in the seat beside you, who decides vent about all the ways the airline and her life is terrible, even though she clearly saw you open the book you had been planning to read. And then there are the crying babies and seat-kicking toddlers that try the limits of their cuteness. Yes, travel can be aggravating.
But take a step back, take a look and imagine. We are all going somewhere. What has led to this particular journey for the couple down the aisle, the two older women in the seat ahead, the solo backpacker. Once in the boarding area a Japanese woman sat across from me silently crying. Silent, but her grief was so pure, a painful, beautiful aura surrounded her. I thought of the time I traveled back to my childhood home for my mother’s funeral, our turbulent relationship overshadowing any grief, because I had already grieved. Our grief was different, yet it came from the same place.
Most of the time during our travels we are lost in our own thoughts, or in our book or computer. We talk with our traveling companion or nap in our seats. We don’t really interact with our fellow passengers unless something happens, such as a person who decides to end their life by walking in front of the high speed train you are taking to Rome.
My husband and I were on holiday and in the business class compartment when we heard the impact, and thought we hit some kind of debris. The train took the longest time to stop and the shrill sound of the wheels braking went right through us. We stopped in the middle of fields with nothing around. An announcement was made in Italian but I understood the word “morto” – dead. Passengers were mingling in the aisle looking out the window at the Carabinieri inspecting the scene. I found an English speaking gentleman who explained it was a suicide and we’d be delayed for a few hours. We chatted softly; everyone was talking softly, whispering. No one seemed angry about the delay, we all seemed to understand the the profundity of the experience. We all expressed concern for the conductor and speculated on the reasons that would lead someone to such a tragic end. Then, after several hours, the train slowly took us to the next station at Civitavechia to transfer to another train to Rome. I remember the still dazed looks as we all got off, walked to another platform and then disappeared into another train to complete our journey.
While traveling, for those few hours we are together our lives are not in our control. We are at the mercy of the pilot or the conductor, unforeseen circumstances like the weather, mechanical failure, or even a terrorist act, or suicide. We could die at any time. Yet we trust. We trust completely that we will arrive safely at our destination. All of us together, trusting.
In a state of emergency, the captain will report the number on board as souls – souls on board. Not men, women, children. Not passengers or crew. Not the annoying loud guy or the complaining neighbor, or the slow people blocking the aisle way. Souls, the little bit of universal energy that belongs to all of us, our spiritual essence, the great equalizer. So, my advice is this: the next time you travel remember the common humanity of all your fellow travelers. We are all just a bunch of crazy humans traveling at fast speeds in tin cans, hurtling towards an unknown future.