Indifference


I find myself shuffling through an overburdened airport.

My feet work tirelessly across the mundane floor. I catch the travelator, excusing myself mechanically as I bypass wearied journeymen, manoeuvring my limbs and bones with the precision of an experienced greyhound in a timed obstacle-course. I am young, full of vigour and the exuberant joy and excitement of home-coming. The rush and flow of the terminal and its general inhabitants suit my temperamental pace, and the world seems assuredly full of life and of vital motion.

I soon reach baggage screening. Pausing to collect myself at the approach, I notice something of a bottleneck has formed there of the otherwise free-flowing traffic. Here the lines of multitudinous humans, once free, collide — and soon contradict. I watch as joyous expressions fade from the faces of men in the sight of their stationary fellow creatures, and from the thought of having to be momentarily bound to them at this juncture of life. As I remain paused a few good metres short of the line, I find myself quickly bypassed, rammed into, and submerged in the general current of the commotion. To others I have thus officially become the obstacle. How their conditions would be infinitely improved if I had gotten out of their way…

Or if I hadn’t existed at all.

So to the wayside I voluntarily go, and I watch the motions of men as they wheel their oversized hand-luggage across this same mundane floor, racing as they often do to the finish line that is the column of pretentious metal detectors and their mirthless guardians. I see the occasional complacent countenance some men are known to exhibit, when they are over-excited to have arrived at their destination sooner than their imagined rivals. I see how some seem simply to have forgotten their manners at home, how they shove their way in front of others; and off they go to their departure gates, to be the first to board their air-buses, and the first to harass the cabin crew for special treatment.

As I pause to reflect, as well as to condemn, I realise I am not so different than those whom I so heartily despise. I walk on the common road of life at my own happy pace, failing often to observe the needs of other travellers and to recognise their plight. So I feel a little guilty, but soon it’s time to catch my flight.

So I rejoin the line in the exact manner in which I had left it, with the cold indifference which was once the result of my faith and confidence in the absolute worthiness of my own private affairs — which transposed, is now the indifference that accompanies Cain when he is cast out of Eden, condemned to seek a new heaven on earth whilst there is none.

And never will be.

I read a lecture by John Stuart Mill on the perfectibility of man. I gather I deceive myself in seeing the world in its most negative light. In this way I am Imperfection personified. My settled limbs and bones are ancient obstructions in the long road to salvation.

And so I gather that he who surpasses me must be a traveller less impatient and more courageous than I ever was, or ever will be. He who surpasses me will not bend to obstacles — or around them. He will not merely observe or deplore their occasions in blank, unread verse in the absence of a better solution.

Rather he will act hastily to remove or redeem them in whichever way he can, in order that others less able than he will be blessed with pleasanter roads upon which to traverse — so that they may go farther than he himself could ever have hoped to have gone…

Wherever these mundane roads may lead.

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