As ubiquitous as the emotional cancers of tattoos and graffiti, the headphone wires slither through the subway commuters. They broadcast a message of insulation, isolation, oblivion, and disregard.
I’ve been frustrated by the “permanently headphoned” before, as they step into my path completely unaware that I’m approaching. As they jostle other riders—okay, we’re all being jostled enough already—while in their little sonic cocoons. And while I can sympathize with them to a degree, I also have to hold them accountable for making others’ commutes less tolerable. Someone on the verge of a bad day doesn’t need careless rudeness on the way to work.
I tried it once. Feeling the need for a bit of escape from this Greatest City in the World and its prodigious noise, I queued up VGPS on my MP3 player. Awash in the pastoral longing for a simpler—and possibly non-existent—time, I carelessly bumped into those around me. I cut people off as they tried to pass me on the platform. I so crowded one woman on the way up the exit stairs that she turned to glare at me. I had no idea that she had even been there.
I’m sure that the “sorry” that I offered her sounded insincere. And what struck me was that I didn’t even hear myself saying it.
I vowed not to wear the headphones again. That I would commute—whether on the subway, on the sidewalk, in the square, or in the corridors—with awareness for those around me. That I would listen for the footsteps behind or beside me, and make way for someone in a bigger hurry than I.
I’m certainly not changing the world. But I am changing my awareness while in it.