According to the laws of entropy, the universe tends to progress from order to chaos. So, as I stared out of the classroom window in ninth grade (during another logic lecture in math), I wondered for the umpteenth time why it was necessary to learn logic. Life isn't made up of ifs, thens, contrapositives and negations. So what if Sally went to see the movie and Billy didn't. And if Billy saw the movie, then Sally didn't? One cannot find a Laputa or Balnibarni on this world. We do not walk around with our heads in the clouds and no one consults their textbooks to decide the approximate time it takes to get to the supermarket after accounting for velocity, friction, stops along the way, weather, distance, etc.
I spend approximately four hours a day (that's 600 hours every year, a total of 100 days) on the New York City transit system. When I first started taking the subway, I would give my coins or food to beggars and I would give up my seat for senior citizens and I would always read the advertisements pasted on the walls (even the lewd ones). I met a lady who'd been raped and robbed seven times a week. The guy who preached about God took regular doses of whiskey between cars. Then there are the circus freaks - the man with no legs, the couple with AIDS and schizophrenia, the blind accordion player, and so on. One time a man came into my car and kept bouncing himself off the subway doors and windows. At the next stop, the entire car emptied out. Any guy who urinated in between trains immediately became the star attraction at a public peep show.
Desensitization is a gradual process. Each day, I would give a little less and sleep a little more. It came to a point where I would sleep the moment I grabbed a seat on the train. I started to hate the bums who disturbed my nap to beg for food or change.
One hot summer afternoon, as I was riding on the escalator to get to the train, I met a violinist. He was playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons (a favorite of mine), so I dropped a dollar in his violin case. After he finished, he thanked me, which led me to compliment his playing which led to a conversation. That was when I woke up from my interlude of desensitization. I hit upon the perfect idea as to how to redeem myself.
During English, we had to write about the city - its advantages and disadvantages. I started writing about the people I'd met on my commutes to and from school. I started thinking about who these people were and why they were where they were. Sometimes I even talked to them, or they talked to me. By writing about the lives of these people, I felt that I gave them a voice, and a life, because someone else is reading about them and acknowledging their troubles.
I suppose it was then that I inadvertently discovered the real point of education. School was not some pointless activity to wile away the time until students became grown-ups. This thing called knowledge was useless unless it was applied. Unless we acted other than in our self-interests, our time on this world would be wasted. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.