The man whose head was resting on my shoulder was a stranger. A six footed, big boned stranger in a dark suit. I did not have the heart to nudge him awake. My book was open on my lap and I was comfortable, slowly settling back into my body after a day of negotiating the world; the maps and landscapes of Melbourne. All the physical, mental and emotional bits.
I chose the window seat because I wanted to feel the world pouring in. The light. That golden and red light that was beginning to form around the edges of the sky as the sun prepared to go home. I wanted to pretend that I wasn’t watching people – I could easily glance away if it became too much to take in all those bodies.
The train was packed.
Every inch of space was squeezed into by a body. Shoulders rubbing against each other. Breaths mingling. Bodies touching. There was a way in which they all leaned into. And there was no way of avoiding this intimacy of bodies twisting and wringing around each other as the train booped this way and that way. It was as beautiful as it was startling.
And I couldn’t ignore the man. He was sleeping on my shoulder. I watched him from the corner of my eye. He looked absolutely exhausted. Like there was nothing left for him to give to himself or anybody else. The world had taken it all for the day. He was an empty bottle that had gushed out all its insides leaving behind a vacuum. He was an empty bottle returning home.
So I sat still and let him sleep. I had never done anyhing quite like that before. No, nothing happened. I didnt suddenly morph into Mother Teresa. No. But in the quiet and the peace of that moment, I begun to wrestle with the questions:
What kind of a world is this that takes our souls from us in the name of work?
Why are so many people so unhappy at work?
How could the one thing that is supposed to create beauty in our lives and in the world be the one thing many of us loath?
I closed my book and watched the red sky instead. The sun. It always leaves you with a sense of awe. Like you have never quite seen it before. The things it does to the sky. Even when we have seen it a thousand times somehow we still manage to think “the sun is so beautiful”
Work and beauty. To me, they are intertwined. At a point I cannot think of one without the other. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching creation and seing all the wonder there is in how it opens up, and me knowing that God worked to make all this breath sucking beauty that was everywhere I looked.
Maybe it’s because of what we produce when we work from our core being; of the kinds of people we become. Our hearts wired for serving through our work and not just receiving a pay check.
“Don’t create a monster” he said to me.
I was sitting opposite him in my small, red and black flowery dress. It was exactly 3 hours before I got onto that packed train.
I felt pretty in my dress. It sat on me like it was made with me in mind. On Degraves Street where we sat outside a quaint Italian cafe, there was a model shoot going on. The model, a tall exquisite thing was walking up and down the street with a suitcase. The background was messy and orchestrated. They had to take the perfect shot which they would later feed to us in magazine spreads and advertisements. It sat so fake in the midst of a real-life street. And I, in my pretty dress, thought of it as a sign – how fake do I really want be in this world?
“Don’t create a monster,” my mentor said again. “Work from simplicity. From your values. Don’t make it harder than it should be.”
My mind tumbled back to the table. I took a sip of my water, my heart nervous.
I’m still swollen from his words. I’m yet to undress them and know them intimately. But I recognised them for what they were; signposts, and so I gathered them into a safe place. In a few months I would have put that final fullstop in my dissertation, hopefully. I will fully sit with those questions about work. I decided I would make work my life’s work. The world is a giant singpost for me – I don’t want to work the way the world works. Someone has got to do something about it. For those who don’t quite fit into the system; for those who want to talk about how working made them better lovers, better friends, better people; for those who want to reimagine work.
The man sleeping on my shoulder suddenly woke up when I shifted in my seat. He mumbled something and settled back into his space. He still looked tired, empty. I wondered what work he did. I wondered about his family. I wanted to say to him, “Look how beautiful the sky is…” but instead I smiled and turned away from him, my attention back to the sky, the beauty of it and the mismatch of our world breaking my heart all over again.