Every morning when I get onto the train, I like to watch people.
Beings perfectly put together at the start of a new day. Clothes prim and properly tucked in all the right places. Bodies occupying their assigned space on the carriage seats, making sure nothing touches anything else. Everyone is quiet. I think it is an unspoken rule. Much like the one that takes hold of us when we step into a lift. Head down or eyes fixed straight ahead on imaginary things in space. No talking. This seems to work for most of us. Never mind that sometimes we are bubbling to say good morning to the old man who hobbles in on his brown woody cane, or to compliment that beautiful woman in her green silk scarf.
So when I get onto trains I look for faces. I watch for the glimpses of emotions and string of thoughts that pass across them like a flashlight, moment to moment.
I see misery. Yes, it is etched in the furrows of the forehead down to the corners of the mouth. Every face with a line or two. The etchings run so deep, touching the surface of the skin and into the deep tissue, right to the heart that sits behind the face.
Sometimes there is a gift given. When I notice the eyes quietly light up into a smile from across rows and rows of faces. I secretly smile to myself curious about the images behind the silent smile. But without questions asked I take this gift and tuck it in.
But this is not the norm. Most mornings I am not gifted with glimpses of happiness. Instead, they are heavy with faces that are steeped in a kind of gloom.
I marvel at the faces. I am voracious in my noticing – the different sizes, shapes, how each takes up its space in the world jutting forward, a mirror into the person. I marvel at the collective sadness of them. It fills the train. Maybe everyone is simply unhappy about another workday in jobs they may not like very much. My mind travels back and forth in thought, searching.
Then I realise that everyone is probably slaying dragons. Behind the scenes, behind those carefully put together faces is another world that is not completely supressed…because it seeps through.
I wonder about the dragons behind each face. Insecurities, inadequacy, a meaningless job, heartbreak, trauma, loss, health trouble, infidelity.
As people sit there, they are also somewhere else doing battle. We forget that these things show on our faces. And maybe this is a good thing. It is life reminding us that it cannot be contained, pressed down into a vessel that we seal and put away. Secure somewhere else. It cannot be sanitized, reduced to perfect moments of pleasure and success. A perfect existence.
Life is much more that that. It will be raw and it will be beautiful.
We live in societies where slaying dragons is a thing of shame, something you do behind closed doors of your house. And maybe there is time for that but we forget that we don’t leave our hearts at home when we leave the house in the morning. And wherever the heart goes, the dragons will be there, for as long as we are human.
My morning train rides remind me that people are not as perfectly put together as they appear. It is easy to assume this when I walk the open streets and my public face collides into other public faces. There is an illusion of order in the world that slips away when they sit on train seats and have nothing but the time to really see their dragons. There is often nowhere to run.
I hope one day there will be less shame about struggling with life. I hope we will become comfortable with discomfort, our own and that of others. That instead of stopping our ears, covering our eyes or turning the other way, we will look these dragons straight in the face so we can see where the blade should touch their necks.
And we will be mindful too, that we are not in this alone, everyone is slaying some form of dragon.
I will keep watching people. They will never know I’m there, embracing them in my mind and loving them through their battles. I will stand at my post, slaying my dragons, too.