The Rat Race

One day he sat on the train, thinking. His commute, being two hours long, afforded him this luxury. He often thought about his life. He should be happy: He had a good education, Oxbridge; a good job, finance; a large home, detached; a loving family, one son and two beautiful daughters, and yet something was missing. He had been brought up not to complain and, on paper, knew his life was good, not something to complain about; to entertain the very idea of unhappiness, of unfulfillment, in such a privileged position as his, was anathema to him. ‘This is nothing’, he told himself as he pushed all lingering doubts from his mind, ‘Nothing to worry about. Just continue as normal and it will go away.’

Except that ‘One day’ became ‘Everyday’, and the doubts seeped into his everyday normality; as water seeps into the ceiling, from a hole in the roof, destined eventually to cause a collapse, so too could he no longer ‘just continue’. Everyday, there was that feeling, a slight tugging, akin to a piece of fabric caught on a nail, a nagging feeling that he couldn’t quite escape, a feeling that something was amiss. This feeling, oozing into his daily routine, into his work only dissipated in the company of his family. His nightly homecoming was a quiet reassurance to him that this feeling, this near-imperceptible aura of unease, was escapable, that there was a solution; this feeling is not some Sartrean despair, a bottomless pit of hopelessness and unfeeling – there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. He did not, however, recognise his work,  and the banal tedium of his quotidian existence that it represented, as the cause of this feeling; he did not realise that every time he took the 06:48 train – his daily commute with the luxury of thinking time –  that he was ripping a tiny piece of his soul out; his job was killing him. As with his father and other miners,  lungs blackened by coal dust, victims of a malignant and persistent working class evil, one that rooted deep inside and corrupted from within, he was victim to the most middle class of evils: ennui.

With each passing day, each headline or newsflash, he had another amount of interest taken from him; everything became part of the minutiae of life, something that may hold his attention for a minute or two, but then be forgotten about – all things, barring his family, fell into this category. His dreams, ambitions and interests, the very things that drove him on, his very being, was falling apart. Aside from his family he had nothing to live for; everything that made him him was gone, and yet, somehow he soldiered on; like an addict unwilling to admit they have a problem, so he too continued with his life. Then one day, that ceiling collapsed in on itself; the weight of all his doubts and worries crashed down around him. He sat, at home, surrounded by his family, the family that he had cherished and who, in turn, had cherished him back… and he felt nothing; a void of emotion, a deep pit of apathy which, he knew, if he fell into, there was no recovery.

It was this, an anagnorisis – a ‘eureka’ moment of self-awareness, an enlightenment – that spurred him to reason. All those years of meaningless business words (reevaluate, reassess, self-reflection) came rushing back to him. He searched to the core of his being, reinstalling some of the vivacity of his youth, his love for life and, in doing so, identified the source of his issues: his work, his colleagues… his beloved thinking time. The thinking time of his daily commute – all 4 hours of it, there and back – that he used to escape the mundanity of his life, the time he had treasured, for the blissful distraction from work, was corrupting him. A search for the idealised perfection of life his younger self had conjured, each thought rising loftier than the next, his thinking time emphasised the sheer sordid nature of life and acted as a diversion from his true focus, those things that mattered most to him: the ambitions and dreams of his youth and his beloved family.

He is now happy; his old ‘joie de vivre’ has returned. He reset, rebooted and refocused; he still has those lofty thoughts, that once brought him so low, but now channels them elsewhere, expunges them from his mind; he has a new discipline to call his own, one that he loves, one that allows him to strive for perfection and to create worlds of ideals, one in which he is happy: writing.

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