We Are All Connected
Rubbing shoulders helps us connect
I spent much of my childhood on public transportation and airplanes. We travelled a lot. I was a gregarious kid and travelled hopefully in life. What was going to be the next exciting adventure? It helped show me from an early age that we are all connected. When I was about three, I woke up on a flight – probably overnight from New York to London. The lights were dim and I was bored. I decided to work the plane. I wandered around, keeping my eyes peeled for someone who looked like they’d engage with me. Probably not long after my mother came rushing over and apologized to the man whose ears I was pinning back. He laughed it off, amused.
Life on on public transportation helps with fear of ‘other’
Photos are all from The National Archives
Mum and I spent many hours on the London Tube, Long Island Railroad and the the New York Subway. We regularly took the subway to the Loehmann’s in The Bronx – the Kingsbridge Store. This was in the 1970s and many people wouldn’t go on the subway, thinking it too dangerous – let along taking it to the Bronx. Some might have been horrified that my mother did this. But mum has a very good radar and we never felt threatened. I remember general grime, all sorts of folks and a lot graffiti art – some good, some not. My father and a friend of the family who owned a gallery in The City used to have arguments about the artistic value of graffiti. No one thought that it was a bad idea to expose me to the Subway.
I saw London change. My grandparent’s flat is in Whitechapel, an area that has always taken in immigrants, put them on their feet and sent them on their way. When I was young, it was still cockney and Jewish. As my childhood rolled along, things began to change as Bangladeshis moved in. The street market outside Whitechapel tube station evolved from cockney accented stall keepers calling their wares – always with laugh and some joshing – to fruits and vegetables that we didn’t know and bright colors against the dull London sky with spicy aromas from the new restaurants. The transition was full of tension – you could feel it in the racially charged air. In fact, they were very similar to the tensions from when the Jewish immigrants, now being supplanted, arrived from Eastern Europe and Russia at the end of the Nineteenth Century onwards. At the time, it was said those immigrants had funny clothes, funny food an odd religion and wouldn’t learn the language. In fact, the Russian immigrants in particular could very well be anarchists and about to bomb us all. Sound familiar at all?
The only time I felt unease, though, was when some Croatian men moved into the flats during the Balkans War in the 1990s. They didn’t do anything but pass us on the stairs – but their eyes were merciless and cold as they nodded a greeting. It sent prickles up my spine as I wondered what they had seen – and done.
Helping us all connect
I benefited greatly from these experiences which helped me feel that we are all connected. I met people from all walks of life and learnt that ‘we’re all in the same bloody human predicament’ as my mother liked to say. This was a great gift – I can approach people as individuals, rarely making assumptions. I don’t tend to go in with preconceptions.
Yoga teaches us that we are all connected and that has been my life experience. Sometimes it can be hard to feel that way when we meet people who are not like us. Deep feelings can well up: of not understanding, of fear of the unknown – and that is a signal that we have something to probe and figure out.
It’s only by bringing these uncomfortable feelings into the light that we can address them. One of the important things in yoga is to take time and quiet to hear all these voices – we need to understand them, or be at their mercy.
In the end, sallying forth to gain experiences of people from other walks of life and other communities can bring down barriers between us and help us treat each other as individuals and not make assumptions about them.
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