Yesterday on the train home from work, I sat in the center of the carriage as I usually do – where on each side of the aisle four seats face one another. I prefer the awkwardness of avoiding other people’s eyes over the claustrophobic press of industrial material in front of my face – that’s like having my nose pressed against a stranger’s back, like queuing for something necessary but shameful.
But yesterday I was alone in the little conversation pit. My knees angeled into the center of the space, one arm draped across the turned-up seat next to me, the other lying along the bottom of the window. Three teenage boys started walking toward me. I didn’t move, and they walked past without eye contact, though they scanned the pit. Another young man headed toward me, averted his eyes, and kept walking. Honestly, I was just too tired to make the proper adjustments to my body to wordlessly invite, or make room: to offer or to defer. I was too tired to even consider it as something expected or normal. The thought didn’t occur to me. But when it did, I wasn’t ashamed of myself. I was curious. My first thought was to observe my own body (still too tired to make an unneeded adjustment). It was unapologetically taking up a lot of space. I was being territorial, I was simply taking up the space I was in at the moment. I wasn’t making myself as small as possible. I wasn’t anticipating another person’s desires. I didn’t feel obligated to.
Not that I would have objected had they been expressed! I wasn’t feeling inconsiderate – just more responsive than predictive.
It wasn’t until that moment that I was conscious of my public habits. That, even on a train with plenty of available seats, I habitually, unconsciously, perform physical cues of submission.
And at 55, not doing so is an entirely new experience. A new behavior. Part of me wondered, is this what it is like to reach “a certain age” and let go of some very specific fears? To stop moving through the world continually trying to please? Is this what it feels like to acknowledge one’s own right to take up space in a public setting? To not apologize for one’s own physical presence.
I am here. Deal with it. YOU smile.
I will always smile back.
Once I got home I sat on the cushion and did a metta meditation. Just to make sure it all doesn’t go to my head.