Unlike my previous blog posts, which have been highly topical and researched, this one is a little different.
The thoughts swirling in my head need to escape. Images of people and movement, of a noisy city boasting ocean views. These thoughts need to escape…
My good friend and I sit in her car on Monday morning, the kids in the backseat watching a movie. We’re on our way to the Vancouver aquarium. We both studied marine biology in school, so we are like kids in a candy store as we anticipate taking our little ones there for the first time.
But alas, we must allow our anticipation to simmer a little longer, because traffic is at a standstill. Is it rush hour? No, explains my friend, this is just normal Vancouver traffic. She explains to me that many people, everyday, make this commute into Vancouver from the outlying areas. Some take transit, but an overwhelming amount drive.
I think about the time it takes to drive there. One hour and 15 minutes. If a person commutes to work, that ends up being 2 hours and 30 minutes of driving – on a normal day. If there’s an accident, construction or heaven-forbid snow, you can double that time.
My thoughts meander … Why do we do this to ourselves? So much of our life. Sitting. Idle. Not moving. We sit in the drivers seat, but yet have no control. The forces surrounding us dictate when we get to our destination.
Behind the wheel, but no control.
We try to go somewhere, but we get stopped. We try to move forward, to inch closer and closer to what we’ve worked so hard for – but we stall. Late again. We missed another meeting. Always trying to catch up.
When do we stop playing the game, and refuse to sit idle on the freeway? To shift into high gear and drive on the shoulder, waving at the stopped cars with their sad suits inside. We were meant for more than drive thru breakfasts and talk radio.
It’s late afternoon, and my friend drops me and Country Boy off downtown on her way back home. She has an appointment, and we are meeting a cousin of mine for dinner.
With time to kill and not a drop of rain in sight, I pack Country Boy in the stroller and begin exploring. After a couple of blocks I hit Bute Street, and look to my right. Blue. Water. There’s no question of where I’m headed now.
I can see the water, but it’s still 7 or 8 blocks from where I am on Robson Street until I reach it. I set a leisurely pace and keep my head up, doing my best to take in all of my surroundings. I don’t feel overstimulated by the busy of the city, but I do notice myself taking more time to absorb all of the movements and sounds my country senses are unaccustomed to.
As I scan my surroundings, I notice that no one meets my gaze. I am used to walking the sidewalk of our small town and nodding to or sharing a good morning with passersby.
Here, no one looks up.
A young woman passes me with an armful of flowers, arranged beautifully. I tell her how beautiful they are. She doesn’t hear me. Either the vehicles are too loud, or my comment unnerves her for some reason.
I reach an intersection. The signal says walk, but I stop instead. There is an ambulance coming towards us, it’s sirens wailing. Some people stop with me. Others, with their heads down and phones out, continue across the street. They eventually stop, but one man makes it halfway through the intersection before noticing the sirens and lights speeding towards him.
Is this who we are now? Heads down. Unnoticing. Disconnected with our surroundings. So obsessed with our virtual lives that we miss what’s going on around us. Time stolen by tech? Or freely given more likely.
Potential memories are never made, conversations are not had, our senses are neglected and they give up on us. We stop noticing the sprouting tulips in the street-side planters. The homeless man with his sign asking for food, becomes another obstacle to maneuver. Do we even notice the inviting smell wafting from the Thai restaurant across the street? Or the sound of sea planes taking off?
We’ve turned our senses off, but at least our phones are on.
After a lovely dinner and visit with my cousin and his wife, we make our way to the nearest Skytrain station. Burrard. This is Country Boy’s first time on a train.
We enter the platform and wait. I am reminded of a pleasant memory – arriving in London and taking the underground during rush hour with our lot of backpacking gear. It’s not rush hour here in Vancouver, but it’s been a while since I’ve been on a train, and this platform reminds me to “mind the gap”.
With a blast of wind, the next train arrives. We enter and fortunately find a seat, designated for individuals with mobility aids. I think my stroller counts.
After a few minutes, Country Boy gets fussy and wants to come out of the stroller. I sit him on my lap. With full view of all of his surroundings, he curiously looks about.
When I take Country Boy out of his stroller, something curious happens. The screen-loving passengers look up.
The same head-down tech lovers that I saw on my walk, start breaking their gaze from their phones, and begin to look at Country Boy.
A pair of young girls sitting a few rows behind us look at him and stifle some “awe!”s. They smile at him and smile at each other.
A middle aged woman, sitting in front of the girls, turns her frown into a grin as she looks at Country Boy and he smiles back at her.
A woman standing up, holding onto a bar in front of us, halts her conversation with her partner, and looks at Country Boy. “What a beautiful boy!” She exclaims. She smiles and waves at him, commenting on how cute his curls are before apologizing to her partner for getting distracted from their conversation.
A young man with headphones enters the train. In his over-sized black hoodie, and stereotypical teenage strut, he walks around looking for a seat. He sees the seat beside us is empty and plunks himself down. One look at Country Boy, and this young man becomes a peek-a-boo plaything for my munchkin. The two of them laugh and play games the rest of the train ride until he reaches his stop. As he leaves the train he looks through the window at Country Boy, gives a cheeky grin, and waves.
There’s something about babies that brings out the best of people. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s their innocence, or their contagious smiles and giggles. Or maybe it’s the fact that a baby doesn’t judge. A young man in a dark hoodie is just as good a playmate as anyone else.
Can we learn from our babies?
What thoughts came to mind for you as you read this piece? Can you relate to any of it?