Glimpses of humanity
As I pushed through the turnstiles, I saw the last lights of the train disappearing into the tunnel, the letter too distant to read. Was it the express or the local? How quickly could I get to my next meeting? It was one of those days when I wished I had an office, having spent the morning going from Chelsea to Midtown and now I was off to Crown Heights in Brooklyn before meeting a friend in Chinatown later. My to-do list wasn’t shrinking as the day went on and I was just wishing for a few hours of focused work, which wasn’t about to come my way.
As I cursed just missing the train, I noticed a couple waiting near the rear of the station, surrounded by their bags. I noticed the man first as he had his hair and beard dyed red in a typical fashion with some men in India. While I observed their luggage surrounding them, I barely made note of it and walked further up the station to kill time waiting for the next train.
A few minutes later, that felt like an eternity as I paced back and forth, the local train rushed into the station. I got into the last car and saw the couple running down towards the train. The woman blocked the door as the man shouted ‘Brooklyn? Nwerudadlfhod?’. He shouted it again, looking around for a response. One or two people nodded, having heard, and understood, Brooklyn. But that other word? Where else was he looking for?
Finally, another man said, ‘Nostrand?’, and the Indian man nodding emphatically Ah, I sighed with relief, now I know where they are going. Now I could help.
At each stop, the man looked around him and asked, loudly, ‘Brooklyn? Nostrand?’, and though still difficult to understand, now I sought out his face, willing him to look my way so I could shake my head, ‘no, no this is not your stop’. Instead, I made eye contact with the woman and shook my head with a smile. She smiled back at me, understanding I was there to help. At each consequent stop, she looked to me, knowing I was there to help. Meanwhile her husband still searched around him, not connecting with any one person, yet still wanting help.
I wanted to waggle my head at her, in that Indian fashion, to have her know that I was someone she could trust. I know you, I see you, I am here to help. Eventually we got to their stop and several people indicated to them that this was where they needed to get off the train. Off they went. The woman smiled her thanks to me as the train pulled out of the station.
I sat back, relaxing on the rest of my ride, feeling the tiniest bit of community with those around me. Though we hadn’t really connected, there was a crackle of connection in the air. Several of us had helped that Indian couple, giving directions, reassuring them they were going to the right stop. NYC is known for it’s tough exterior, the walls that get put up. People live in their own worlds, headphones on, disconnecting to those around them. But, moments like these, when humanity breaks through, it makes me love this city a little bit more. Underneath it all, we all really do want to connect.