Every day, I wait at the Lake Merritt BART station for my morning ride to work on San Francisco’s public transportation system, the BART. I frequently question the use of “rapid” in the words Bay Area Rapid Transit, as it’s frequently delayed. Delays and all, I’ve become very fond of this morning ride.
Looking around the crowded train cars, most passengers are found glued to the eyes of their iPhone; head down, they appear lifeless and static to the bright screens, held inches away from their face. It reminds me a bit of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, where workers would shuffle into crowded elevators to begin their long shift in the machine world.
While I understand this is “how the world is” now, I notice that all of these tools, originally designed to better connect us, have really only served to widen the gap of intimacy between others. Cell phones have become more of a security blanket, frantically pulled out in moments where one doesn’t know how to engage with others – such as elevator rides, moments waiting for the BART, or when one arrives early at a restaurant to meet another. These times, prime for meeting and engaging with others in the same vicinity, are now turned into dozens of personal mobile ‘walls’ put up to prevent these moments from happening.
Some of the best times of my life have occurred during these unexpected times of connection. I’ve met lifelong friends in times that could have been spent staring at a television or iPhone, because we happened to be at the same place at the same time…and engaged in conversation rather than status updates or refreshing our email feeds for the 100th time.
I enjoy the highs and thrills as much as the next person. But, the real moments of life seem to occur in the still times where enjoying the presence of another is the main event. It’s the sweet moments with Azar, spent talking after a workday that have shown me joy and intimacy. I’ve also found these times sitting by Lake Merritt with Sister J, often in quiet pauses of conversation as we gaze, in appreciation, at the beauty of the water.
Awkward silence doesn’t seem so awkward when you replace it with the understanding that being still in the presence of another can be receive as the gift of your shared time with each other; enjoying the act of being still with each other, and not wanting to be anywhere else with your body, mind, or gaze.