I sit down on a bench in the middle of the 16th Street Mall, Downtown Denver. Other than the Free Bus and the roar of the occasional motorcycle cop patrol, the Mall is reserved for pedestrians only. The wanderer on the Mall is prone to seeing humanity in the raw, up close and personal. Tourists gawk about, business men and women move to and from offices, homeless men play chess, street musicians provide a consistent soundtrack to the pace of shoppers, and the aromas of food float down the street, coming from noisy restaurants and humble food carts
While sitting in this rush of foot traffic, I think over my past few years of commuting by car to work. I’ve written poems and reflections on the nature of traffic. I’ve worked on my rising levels of frustration, and attempted to use traffic as a lesson in patience, stillness, inner-peace. Some mornings it works. Most mornings it’s a disaster.
Amidst the flow of people walking up and down the street, I realize how remarkably similar the pedestrian commuters are to people driving up and down the freeway. Whether walking or motorized, we are ants marching. We are living deeply independent lives, but apparently all in motion towards some collective goal of progress. For the most part, we all know the direction that we need to go and the time in which we need to get there. We might walk or drive directly behind someone, but that someone is barely human. The ants in front of us often become simply objects in our way, slowing down our momentum to whatever important place we’re trying to go.
And we are also only ants marching in the eyes and minds of the ants behind us; we are just an object in some other object’s way. And so the question, which I think more and more ants and thinkers and writers and activists are asking these days, crosses my mind: when the hell did this happen to us? How did we evolve so quickly that our basic human interaction now centralizes on the predicament of maneuvering around one another?
If this has become our central focus while walking or driving or biking or standing in-line at the store, or standing in-line at Disneyland, or surpassing our co-workers and even our bosses for the next big promotion, then what will become of our human community?
And how far reaching are the effects of this jostling for position? How are we acting towards our families? Our colleagues? Our friends? As we become more mobile as a society, many of us migrate farther and farther away from our family and friend support networks and communities (I am guilty of this). Have we not, in this process, just found a way to move around and pass more ants?
For this morning, I take up conversation with a fellow resting ant, Beverly, a homeless woman in her sixties who now shares my bench. She reminds me how beautiful the fall leaves are as they tumble gracefully from the trees into all this marching.