On Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, I attempted to escape the city and go back home like thousands of other travelers, wary of the incoming weather. Everyone at work had already left for the day, and I hurriedly closed up with the anxiety of catching a flight pressing me forward. At 5:58 PM, two minutes before I intended on being out the door and searching for a cab, the phone rang. Annoyed, I answered and went into autopilot, not giving the client on the other end of the line my full attention. At 6:10 PM I was out the door, beginning what would be the longest trip to the airport I’ve ever endured. Already nauseous from the lack of food in my belly, I pressed my forehead against the cold cab window, trying to steady myself as the bumper-to-bumper traffic sent my body into a dance of never-ending undulations from the quick and frequent accelerations and stops. After the first hour of what was usually a thirty-minute trip, the driver and I started commenting on the enormity of the traffic. It took me a moment to realize that I had been so focused on getting to the airport that I had almost forgotten I was sharing the same enclosed space with another human being.
He told me that he was from a tiny little village on a mountainside in Kashmir, in a place you could only get to by mule, not car—a place that didn’t have electricity until 1985, and where he remembers using kerosene lanterns in high school. He told me that he laughed deeply when he heard on the radio that the oldest man in the world is 111 years old. He said that his relatives are older than that, but no one would come across their village in the mountainside to know. His uncle, who he claimed was 114 years old, is still walking, running, talking and growing hair. He said his grandmother lived to the age of 112. When he told her that he was moving to America, she couldn’t understand why he would want to leave their mountainside. “You have everything you need here, what more do you need?” she asked him.
He told me that his grandmother never touched money a day in her life. He asked her, “Grandma, what about food?” She told him, “We have a goat, we grow rice, we don’t need anything else”. Then he asked, “Well, what about soap?” She answered that she makes her own soap. And finally he asked, “But grandma, what about the barber? You have to get your hair cut.” She told him that the barber comes to visit and he trades her for rice. Although his grandmother lived so long, he told me that he would not, because of the high stress and lack of simplicity that he experiences here.
What started off as the longest trip to the airport ended with an explosion of thoughts and a deep appreciation for the gifts of storytelling and wisdom. He must have apologized five or six times for “speaking too much,” but I assured him he was not, and that I wanted to hear more. This made me think about the fact that in this beautiful city filled with millions of people, who are doing a billion amazing things, so many tend to function in autopilot. How often do we get from work to our doorstep without having any recollection of the journey? Oftentimes, I find that I slip into autopilot as a tool to combat the stress of the many tasks I have committed to. It seems that New Yorkers especially are prone to overscheduling, frequently getting swept up into the ceaseless current. Being trapped in the car for two hours wasn’t something I had planned or thought I had time for, but after reflecting on the day as a whole, I realized that I had gotten so much more out of that two-hour cab ride than the nine hours spent at work. Sometimes we forget we are humans first, not just vessels with which to get “work” done. I am reminded of this every time I get back on the mat. Sometimes it’s difficult to set aside time for your practice when you have so much going on. But like my trip to the airport, setting aside that time is what you need in order to get everything else done. It isn’t the number of emails we answer in a day that benefits us on a larger scale: it is the times that remind us we are human.