“All men lead their lives behind a wall of misunderstanding they have themselves built, and most men die in silence and unnoticed behind the walls. Now and then a man, cut off from his fellows by the peculiarities of his nature, becomes absorbed in doing something that is personal, useful, and beautiful. Word of his activities is carried over the walls.”—Sherwood Anderson, from “Poor White”
I took the train today, through another of the bitingly cold winter mornings of the season. These mornings work systematically for the commuters that frequent the station: we meet at the newspapers, the ticket window, the platform; we puff warm air out of our chapped lips and sip coffees with two creams and two sugars. We are the working-class walking dead, huddled just inside the swinging glass doors of the station, waiting for the woman’s voice announcing the westbound.
There’s this one woman I wonder about. I don’t see her every day; it’s on occasion, as I take it she also tangles with the ever-unpredictable traffic in the area. We dance into a fifteen-minute window every weekday—sometimes we arrive in step.
She pulls a bag with her, one with a telescoping handle that she closes to go up and down stairs. Some mornings, she carries a flower-patterned purse—blue, green, tan—to match. Her stop is two before mine, about a third of the way through her free Metro crossword. Her bag clunks over the gap between the train and the platform when she leaves, and she puts the paper in the recycling bin.
But it’s not just her. It’s the thought of millions of people on this planet that I don’t know, and one that rides with me to work in the morning. I don’t know her, and I don’t think I ever will, but she’s fascinating in her own way. Her brisk walk and her loud wheeled bag, her crossword, her recycling. She’s one of my morning standbys, one of the early-riser army aboard the westbound to Philadelphia.