Today I was reading David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech “This is Water.” In it, he addresses the theme of selfishness, as well as the tedious aspects of adult life and how we all construct and view our life experiences.
Our challenge, he says, is to step outside ourselves, take an active role in interpreting our surroundings, and not succumb to that everyday tediousness. I call this fighting cynicism. In recent years, the importance of this challenge has been very present in my own mind. It’s easy for me to become irritated by the day-to-day administrative functions of my life as I fume about how they hold me back from a potentially “rad” existence. I’ve been hearing that word “rad” a lot lately, and I hate it, so I’m using it here. Cynicism! Wait, where was I?
As I read David Foster Wallace’s speech, I thought that it would have benefitted from a paragraph suggesting that one of the best ways to stave off cynicism is through actively commuting, whenever you can.
My daily commute, which I’ve thrust upon myself due to my conventional choice of a Monday through Friday job, is roughly the same route every day. Surely the daily commute is something ripe for cynicism. However, most days my trips to the office don’t feel mundane or trying, and I attribute that to running and bicycling as my transportation modes of choice.
An active commute, be it bicycling or running, obligates me to interact with my environment in a way other modes do not. I notice small differences– whether the moon is waxing or waning, how the day’s wind will push me about, and the daily deterioration of pavement, path, and sidewalk.
Today I saw a cyclist commuting straight into a bitter headwind, and I thought about how tough that was and in my mind I wished her well. Commutes by bike or running put me face to face with other people. Sometimes people exchange hellos, and other days we don’t. But we still share pavement and place ourselves directly in each others’ orbits, even if for the briefest of moments.
To me, an active commute says “I’m trying.” I’m making an effort to take care of myself, and to connect to the city and everything in it.
The physical demand of an active commute puts my brain in a more relaxed and elastic space where new ideas and perspectives enter and germinate.
Maybe it’s the endorphins from the physical exertion, but when I actively commute I will step outside myself to wonder about other people around me and to consider the myriad ways in which all of us live. I can see my existence as a small blip in time, but surprisingly, this does not bother me. In that moment, it’s all okay.
The active commute takes an ordinary, potentially tedious, activity and makes it special almost every time. It continues to appeal, engage, and absorb me into the larger whole. The active commute: fighting cynicism by bike and run since 2004.