A young girl was reading what looked like a rapper’s crime novel. The book’s title ended in the letters, “II,” denoting its predecessors, and all in the same font of that 1998 Juvenile album cover, bejeweled.
Another girl, maybe 27 and definitely cute, was reading Chronicles of Narnia. She has a wreath sitting on her green tights.
Others have magazines and newspapers, a few catch their reflection in the window between stations. The rest stare into their phones moving tiny digital gems and candies around one another, or endlessly running, jumping, and ducking a smaller self towards no end.
Maybe it’s just loneliness in me, that inherent longing we have to be connected, but I feel love when I see them. Sitting their doing their thing, being people. In our silence, I feel like I know them in some way, and I am so happy they have interests and something to do in between here and there. So, without much to go on, I give them all vague personalities, and my favorites get back stories and conflict.
The guy now staring at his phone, while his thumb hovers, is deciding how to make his girlfriend’s day. He wants her to feel special. He wants her to be excited to see him, and he imagines himself lifting her up when he walks in the apartment later that night. In his imagined future, his girlfriend loses herself in him as her feet dangle above his shoelaces. But really, for two months now, he’s been walking in to an empty apartment. Standing there, in the moment before he turns on the light, he finds himself relieved. He guesses that he’s happy to avoid the inevitable fighting. After grabbing a snack and turning the TV on, he throws pieces of popcorn to the dog. During commercials, for forty-five seconds at a time, he thinks about what she might be doing, then throws popcorn at a waiting dog.
There’s a couple sitting close to one another. She’s 48 but looks older. The husband is turning 56 this weekend, and they’re back in New York to celebrate. Each of them have visited once before, separately, back when they were just teenagers. Now half a lifetime and a eye blink later, his hand is in his wife’s lap. She cups it with both of hers, looking terrified in a way that is almost calm. It’s a look worn into her face after decades of stress and worry, years spent imagining the worst and getting the expected. His hand sits there, neither of them thinking about it. The look and the hand, it’s who’ve they become together. They’re on their way downtown, to see Ellis Island and look up the great grandfathers and mothers who sat on a boat with cupped hands. They’re uncomfortable in this city, constantly looking at the map on the train’s wall behind them, second guessing navigation. But they are here, and when they leave the trip will be perfect. Their grown-up children will be comforted knowing their parents are in love and they’re busy. Back at home, the husband and wife will sit together while Al Rocker does a bit in Battery Park on their living room screen. An out of focus Statue of Liberty will stare into the camera from behind Al, while the husband puts his hand in her lap and slips his fingers between hers without a word.
A man in his early thirties, with an over-sized Letterman jacket on, plays a game on his phone that is too young for him, while a thin younger woman in a pencil skirt looks over his shoulder, her head tilted back out of his periphery. But he sees her, or doesn’t have to. The game is better shared, and he trusts her to watch. He dies, and in a second, she shrinks just a bit. The game restarts and she inches forward, almost forgetting her anonymity. I forfeit mine, smiling.
The kids sit there. From tiny plastic chairs, with giant eyes, they hear they can be whoever they want, they can have whatever they want. And I think I want to grow up to be all of them. And I wish we told them they are everything they want, they have it all. And I wonder what they’d want us to be. Astronauts and doctors, lawyers and professional athletes, the sandbox, the chalkboard, the folded, hand-written notes, the questions, not the answers.
Success in the moment of achievement, the win, has all the characteristics of any good addiction. It hits you, making you feel like the most powerful person in the world, and the only person in the world, your world. All your work, time, and sacrifice is justified. You did it, and it feels great. But then it begins to fade. You don’t even notice it at first. But that feeling is barely there. It’s as if a balloon was inflated to create a plaster model. Over time the balloon has deflated inside the permanent plaster walls of what it was, creating empty space that never existed before the plaster was set. But the model remains unchanged, its emptiness going unnoticed as it longs to be filled again. When the rush of achievement is gone, your mind is busy—half way between remembering that feeling and planning the next one.
I was born to believe happiness exists in achievement, i wonder how many times I’ll fail before I know that happiness exists as much there as in success.
Failure strips away every artificial preoccupation. Losing brings into focus the world as it is, that is your environment, people, and your self. As the things you’ve invested in inevitably do not return on their investment, you’re forced to consider your resources, that is time, love, and attention. The greatest opportunity of failure lies in reconciling the two, the world as it is and your resources. There is no better proof of this than in your greatest of failures, death.
I’ve been lucky enough to have enjoyed some success, but maybe more fortunate to have experienced a good deal of failure. And failure has taught me infinitely more than success ever has.
I think the ironic finality of this logic is that success and failure are just personal perceptions of our manipulations, meaningless without the purpose we give them. And that when we stop trying to control the world for our gain, we can appreciate it and find contentment outside any of our goals. Not to say that we shouldn’t set goals, try to succeed, and contribute, but just that we should realize whether we get there or fail trying is not important.