I want to tell you how the weight and strain and physical limitations of moving my luggage through NYC yesterday was as much a burden as it was an illumination of two related principles1:
- The harder I work, the easier it gets.
- The more challenging something is, the more opportunity there is for knowledge or change.
Especially if I open myself up to the possibility of experimentation, and accept the challenges as they are rather than fight the weight and gravity of the mountain before and below me.
From the Penn Station basement platform, I wondered what happens when I wait for the elevator instead of just barge forward up the stalled escalator (that had become “Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.”). Toward the less obvious but perhaps more relaxed solution.
I wondered what happens if I just keep that up perpetually while carrying this suitcase and make choices as if I am in a wheelchair. For all objective purposes, this luggage is a handicap, moving a heavy proportion of my current subjective mass around on four sets of wheels. If I used the wheels as much as possible, even turning around from what seems like a more direct route, would it get easier? There’s, like, ADA for a reason. Civic enterprises are supposed to be accessible. If I was willing to let go of that impatience, that drive and striving for needing to not wait, would the physical labor of moving myself and these effing ridiculously heavy bags — with their crap wheels and poorly packed center of gravity through space and time — become a bit easier? If I let go of the notion that these elevators are only for crazy lady’s with carts full of g-d knows what, what happens?
I wondered what it is see the world through another person’s wheels. I say hello to the old lady next to me in the third set of elevators in the same subway station, as a friendly person might while passing the time in a car together, but only in her response realize that she is homeless and her bags are collecting “receecling” and that she lost her job and that she would take any job she could find. Under normal circumstances I would have been lugging these suitcases up stairs and likely tweaking my back before I even it made it under or over the river to Brooklyn, otherwise not in a calm place to acknowledge the human next to me because somehow I tend to be afraid of their discomfort and pain and situational suffering as it highlights my privilege and circumstantial bliss (within what is otherwise actually just a very difficult challenge of moving 40 pounds through two boroughs).
In that wonder, and slowed pace, I begin to take stock of how these stations are old, designed and redesigned and barely functioning despite their romantic grit and tilework, and in many ways stuck outside the reach of the social and moral contracts of accessibility. Nor, perhaps, should they. Because it’s clear not all of them have elevators nor even escalators. The single track map in the car, it’s green line marked by blue icons, but only at certain stations.
So, if you’re handicapped, the solution is that you can get most places in the city via subway, but you’d likely have to transfer through a number of lines before getting in the general vicinity of where you are headed. And in the case of my trip to Prospect Heights, the elevator accessible stop is Barclay’s (before the closer Bergen station).
As I’m pushing and pulling the case (and backpack tenuously, at best, attached to the top) up the mild and sun-drenched incline slope of Flatbush Ave, the hardness really starts instructing. I had overpacked, clearly. And despite whatever else I might have thought was the most important quality of a roller suitcase, when it comes to navigating an urban environment with a heavy-laden swallow of a hard shell carry-on, or battery charger and USB ports or TSA approved security lock, the most important characteristic would be the quality and durability and strength of the wheels. And they’re the first thing to break on an otherwise solid bag. And wear down. And so why the eff can’t I change them out or upgrade them? If I changed only one thing, that would be the thing to change in this situation.
Any why have a never thought about this before? It’s also similarly hard to traverse an airport with this bag, but just not this hard. It’s acceptably hard on carpet and marble floors.
But not here. And that’s the greater part of the experience. The difficult illuminates the truth, however subjective it might be, of what I now understand about the whole movement.
Then the real (and perhaps obvious) lesson hits. I should forgo my stubborn desire to always take the subway and allow myself the small luxury (and really, self-care) of taking a rideshare or taxi whenever I have luggage. I still get the subway – but instead of trying to shave of 10% of my travel costs by doing it “the hard way”, I should invest the extra $12 in myself and my body. I pay far more per that in a month trying to undo and strengthen the damage I do excusing crap body movements like strong-arming fourty pounds up hill. While today the arduous journey was worthwhile as as deep empathetic experiment and experiential lesson in the difficulties of life, ultimately the greatest (and perhaps most moral) path of least resistance and the cost difference is the actually the most valuable, from a conservation of work and energy.
Because when I got to G’s apartment, finally, I laid on the ground for an hour contemplating the physics of the work involved and my choices and the fact that I’d been in NY for all of two hours and already had a half-dozen life-altering moments and interactions (with myself and with the city-island-state), but I couldn’t do anything about anything until I untwisted my back and undid the work I’d exerted in my body.
- I mean, I don’t know if they’re actually Principles™, but they’re the thoughts that run through my head.