Running in Circles Into The Future

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” — Albert Camus

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” — Viktor E. Frankl

‘Snowstorm’ by Adam Gonnerman (CC BY 4.0)

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Every day I race through the Port Authority Bus Terminal on my way to and from work. One evening, early in the employment that gave me this commute, I realized how this must look to bystanders from out of town. Frowning people striding along at the pace of a jog, weaving through crowds of the slightly-slower-moving, all seemingly desperate to either get to work or get home. I imagine that through the years people from more rural areas have skaken their heads in dismay millions of times over at this spectacle.

Is it meaningless?

This is the thought that came to me on that day, and that I reflect on from time to time as I glide through the bus station. This is what people are talking about when they say ‘rat race.’ My hurry is usually nonsensical, as I generally arrive at work with plenty of time to spare, and when going home I don’t typically have any evening plans to get to or family to see. I suppose that when my kids were small and I was married it seemed worthwhile to get back home to them sooner rather than later. Now though…not so much.

Those of us who live and work in the greater New York area rush and race from one point to the other, and not just on our commutes. When doing one thing we’re often thinking of the other things we have to do. There isn’t a lot of free bandwidth, and even for people like me who favor quiet weeknights at home, there’s always something to be done.

One could look at the harried commuters making their way through the bus station and find it all rather sad. That’s not too surprising, given that the Port Authority Bus Terminal is referred to by some as the International House of Sadness (I prefer ‘Dystopian Urban Hellscape’). How can you not feel at least a little despair over the futility of human endeavor in a place like that? Then again, someone seeing just that moment isn’t getting the real context.

Although we might walk with purpose and hurry without looking right or left with nothing really going on in our lives, that often isn’t the case. As I’ve indicated, people are thinking about spouses, children, events, and obligations they have when they’re heading home. On the way to work they could be hoping to get there before the boss, or in time for the first meeting of the day. Even so, underlying that immediate reason is a broader strategy they’re trying to enact in their lives.

In the short term, the places we’re going are rather mundane. These daily ordeals are more than that, though. When I’m dodging tourists on the way to the office or climbing the bus station escalator on the way home, I’m taking a longer journey that I’ve mapped out and which I’m still planning. There is significance in the quotidian, and it can be a source of empowerment, in the knowledge that little by little, we’re stepping into the future that we are seeking to create.