The Macquarie University train station took my breath away the first time I slipped below the surface of Herring Road: the long gliding descent into a cavern shaped like a monster’s egg laid in the crust of a world—vanished leaving only its negative space. I was entranced. But, now I ride up and down the escalators without giving much wonder.
Much of living is inattentiveness. One of the most significant tasks we perform with our highly developed brains is to not pay attention to things. We are constantly pinged with sensations: noise, smell, touch, visual stimulation, most of which is irrelevant to the things we want to do right now and so our brains quietly tune it out, relegate it to the vague background. If we were unable to do this we would be constantly overwhelmed by the world, endlessly distracted, incapable of a sense of self, lost and unable to act. But sometimes we deploy this extraordinary ability to filter reality in sadder ways.
A few weeks past, I rode the escalator down to the platform of the Macquarie University train station and landed standing next to someone who I thought I recognised. He thought he recognised me too. So we blinked at each other a few times and awkwardly smiled, waiting to see if the other would smile back. He did, I did. We said ‘hello’. He used to live with us at RMC. I asked where he was living now. He told me. I asked him how it was. Not so good, terrible really… He pursues a goal—a dream of competing for an athletic prize in figure skating that leads him to constant training. With his attention fixed on that goal—early mornings on the ice, back again in the afternoons, competing, studying, working—for him friendship has become impossible. I’d barely ever had a conversation with him before but on the platform his heart was breaking in front of me. Humans wither without being known by others.
I put my hand on his arm and told him I was sorry, so sorry that he seemed so alone in it all. As the train arrived, he laid his hand along my cheek, left it there for a moment, looked at me wet-eyed, then turned away without saying anything else and walked quickly away to board the train on a different carriage: ashamed that I had seen his tears.
I rode the train that day in silence, sadness, and prayer.