Every weekday Suzie leaves her apartment in Pittsburgh, carries a load of professional cargo down to the car and starts a long commute across a distance of about five and a half miles. Running, this would take some of us about 45 minutes to complete and that’s often how long it takes to drive. The commute is unmerciful and unrelenting. I’m not sure how we all gradually came to agree that the workday should revolve around “banker’s hours” for everyone. But so it rolls on, one day into the next, passing a familiar vista of unchanging brick storefronts and maybe just a few trees.
Arriving at the campus where she works, “Suzie” (I’ll just call her this today; she has no desire to be famous) again ports a cargo of books, a computer and personal items along cement walkways through uniformly mowed lawns in the shadow of the halls of academia. She finds her way to a cramped office where the desktop computer waits, full of documents, data and reams of fresh e-mails that have grown there like irrepressible fungi overnight. But there aren’t really any fungi here; all’s clean and sterile and there’s a contractor to call if ever rodents, arthropods or fungi appear. There’s climate control but Suzy doesn’t control it; she tolerates what others want.
Hours pass again today, eyes transfixed by a scrolling screen, ears straining to tune out nearby conversations and concentrate on what the computer says is important right now. Or what the boss in the adjacent office says is. The constant drone of central heating fans drowns any chance of hearing even the birds outside. Efficiency demands that Suzie maintain a single posture for as much of her eight obligatory hours as possible: bottom planted on seat, head forward to screen, legs at rest.
Suzie’s health doesn’t seem like all it could be nowadays. But coincidence is not causation and I can’t say why Suzie isn’t well – so many factors lend to human health and I’d be the least authoritative source on such things. But it seems reasonable that something that eats up a third to half of each day has some bearing on the matter.
Suzie’s is a case I know well – she’s someone very special to me. But Suzie seems more the rule than the exception today. She’s the early 21st Century office archetype, one of millions. Just watch the volume of the morning commute, maybe from your own car that’s sitting motionless on the freeway. How did we get here and how do we make a break with it?
Some rush to blame capitalism – that’s popular nowadays. But we might as well blame man’s desire to better himself, his desire for progress and, yes, his greed. How much thought do we give to the alternative? Under all other systems, we’d still be toiling in some way – we’d just be even less free and less likely to improve our lot in life. We feel constrained now but would be more so under any other system we humans have tried? Still, we long for utopia.
All that’s beside the point though, not really what I’m getting at today.
Our lives are better when we can blend our toiling with encounters with wild places and wild things – the unpredictable and multifarious. We improve and gain resilience when we run on paths through the woods, swim in rivers or sleep on the ground. Eating the mushrooms and wild roots and herbs isn’t a bad idea either. Few of us can do these things constantly but the more we can, the better we’ll be. I’m convinced of this.
And the point was also to say, at this Valentine’s Day season that you’re not forgotten Suzie and there’s someone miles away over the hills remembering what you endure daily and wanting something better for you.
These are some the places Suzie would rather be and some of the critters she’d rather be spending time with this Valentine’s Day: