Search This Blog

Friday, November 30, 2018

Like the Fool that I Am and I'll Always be........

This is probably one of those things that you had to be there for, but I just sat down at my desk; 10 minutes late for work, and I'm in such a great mood that I have to blog about my commute today. Everything was "normal" up until Penn Station. Normal is an extreamly generic term, so I'll say that as usual, most of my fellow commuters got on the train seemingly lost in the early morning fog of another mundane commute. They took their seats if they could find one and the vast majority either buried their heads in their electronic devices, newspapers, and books or just closed their eyes and savored the last moments that they could rest. I feel like I'm traveling to the beat of a different drum;as if the soundtrack of my life is set to a different station than most others. But I always take pleasure in those few kindred souls whose paths cross with mine. A knowing nod, a smile, a wave from afar; we might shake hands and say good morning - one woman in particular runs past me everyday at Jamaica, we blow each other a kiss. I'm certain that there are some that view me as a fool; but this is who I am. They can change their minds, but they can't change me.

We get to Penn and this is where the trouble begins; the subway platform is crowded and the sign says that the downtown trains are "Delayed" as even more people are arriving at the platform. I find my usual spot on the platform and meet up with my little group of commuting friends. There's a collective frustration growing and five minutes later the overhead announcement comes across:

"Pht ab;d*&# mghrx THIRTY FOURTH STREET akdcs jhdkjb nbsakjh #$jhk"

Followed by:

"We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause."

A few minutes later the second uptown train pulls into the station. This is my cue; I tell my friends that I'm going uptown and I'll cross over to another line at 42nd st. Sometimes that's just the fastest way to get downtown. If you're going my way, I'll go with you. No one wants to join me - I guess they're counting on Murphy's law: the moment I leave, the downtown train is sure to arrive. But so what? Who cares if the train does show up right after I leave? I don't want life to pass me by, waiting on a platform and getting more frustrated each passing moment. Maybe I get to work earlier than them, maybe I don't; I'm intent on appreciating the experience of even the mundane commute if I can. In this way I feel like I'm moving ahead so life won't pass me by.

A minute later I'm at 42nd street and I cross over to the NQRW line. As I'm on the stairs leading down to the platform, I see that the R train is sitting just before the platform and there's a crowd on the platform. I walk up to a group and ask "How long has THAT been there?" The response, accompanied with a heavy sigh, is "At least 5 minutes!" A minute later the Q train arrives on the other side. The R train is a local train that goes all the way to south ferry - the Q is an express that makes a left at Canal street and heads into Brooklyn. It looks like I'm the only one that gets on the Q. If you're going to lower Manhattan, the R is the right train, but I figure I'll get to Canal st and re-evaluate. We get to Canal, I hop off and figure maybe I'll walk the dozen blocks to my office. Just as I pass the stairs to the 6 train though, I hear that it's pulling into the station. The the next stop on the 6 is right across the street from my office. It's like kismet. The doors open just as I get there and I walk on without having to stop and without having to run to catch it - as if it was sent just for me.

There's maybe six people in the car that I step into, and one of them is THAT guy. You know, the guy that apparently doesn't realize that there's other people in the world. He's playing music REALLY loud. It's not like he's using headphones  on the "please make me deaf" setting - he's using an actual speaker! It's an order of magnitude better than the speakers that the MTA uses to "inform" us about what's going on.  My mind is forming the words "Oh, great...." When I stop in mid thought and say "Oh, wait. I LIKE this song..." From Canal street to City Hall park I listened to Jim Croce sing about me and today's commute:

Like the north wind whistlin' down the sky
I've got a song, I've got a song
Like the whippoorwill and the baby's cry
I've got a song, I've got a song

And I carry it with me and I sing it loud
If it gets me nowhere, I'll go there proud

Moving me down the highway, rolling me down the highway
Moving ahead so life won't pass me by

And I'm gonna go there free

Like the fool I am and I'll always be
I've got a dream, I've got a dream
They can change their minds but they can't change me
I've got a dream, I've got a dream

Oh, I know I could share it if you'd want me to
If you're goin' my way, I'll go with you

Movin' me down the highway, rollin' me down the highway
Movin' ahead so life won't pass me by

Movin' me down the highway, rollin' me down the highway
Movin' ahead so life won't pass me by

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Do you believe in angels?

Do you believe in angels? I do. I invoke their assistance quite often, and I'll usually ask them to accompany family members when they travel. My daughter is on break from school to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family, and as college students are known to do, she gave me very little notice that she did not have a ride home. My son did the same thing, (and I sigh here for dramatic effect) but that's another story. Amtrak was booked except for a few seats on even fewer trains which were at least double the normal rate; I guess that's the law of supply and demand in practice. Guess who's traveling Greyhound....

The problem is, apparently no-one in Norristown PA knows where the bus terminal is. She calls me 5 minutes before the bus is supposed to leave. She's in the wrong place, and frustrated because she can't find the bus terminal. It is a forgone conclusion that she's going to miss the bus. I purchased a flexible ticket, which means that she can get on the next bus, but that one gets into Manhattan at 1:30 in the morning. I want to tell her that this is what happens when you wait until the last minute, but I don't see the immediate value in that so I bite my tongue. We are both getting frustrated as I go into contingency planning mode. My first thought though, is that I asked St. Michael to guide her on her travels, and I draw some comfort from this. I know God answers prayers, and I know that sometimes the answer is "no," but I want to say that I feel like St. Michael has always been there for me.

"Ok; we have a few options...."

She cuts me off in mid sentence: "Wait - I think I see the bus across the street. I gotta go."

"Let me know wha....." She hung up on me in mid-sentence.

I'm beginning to feel like Rodney Dangerfield; you know, "I don't get no respect....."

15 very long minutes later I get a text from her:
"OK, so I wasn't in the right place but the bus driver also wasn't in the right place, so I'm on the bus."

I want to say that I think God has a sense of humor, and that the angels are His very willing accomplices. "So what if she doesn't get to the bus terminal on time? I got you covered." My daughter is on her way home now; and she's traveling with angels........

Friday, November 9, 2018

“Slide Over!”

There are moments in the past that stick out in my memory. Every once in a while I sift through these memories; much like one might turn the pages of a photo album. I'll share one with you.

 One time, years ago, I had to go on a business trip to Montreal. I decided to take Amtrak up because I had the time to spare and I wanted to be able to say that I've ridden the rails the whole length of the east coast from Florida to Canada. The thing is, on the day of the trip I was in a pretty foul mood and feeling a little misanthropic. (Hey, it happens.) I didn't want to deal with a stranger sitting next to me, and I didn't want to talk with anyone. I just wanted to be left alone for a few hours and to look out at the scenery through the window. I'm not proud of this, but in order to ensure my relative solitude, when I got on the train I sat on the aisle seat of a two seater section; I tried to look sick by splashing some water on my face to simulate a feverish sweat, I held a crumpled tissue in my hands, I closed my eyes and tried to look like I had to breathe through my mouth. I might even have left a bag of cough drops on my lap. (I don’t know, is that a little passive-aggressive behavior?) The passengers had just about finished boarding the train and were settling in, and I thought: "Great, my plan worked perfectly." I complemented myself on my cleverness. (This was way before that Doritos commercial, by the way.)

Just before the train started moving, I became aware of a little commotion. Actually it was escalating; I didn't know what it was, but it wasn't my business and I was intent on maintaining my smokescreen of looking sick and being asleep. Suddenly the Lady in the seat behind me got up and took control of the situation. "OK - That's it!" she said, rather loud. Everyone got quiet. She starting issuing commands; "You: move over there!" Someone got up and moved. "You: Move over there!" Someone else got up. "You two: sit over here, NOW you're together!" I'm thinking to myself "Leave me alone, leave me alone, don't sit next to me...." "YOU!" She hits the back of my seat. "SLIDE OVER!"

I slid.

She sits down and with a big smile immediately starts unpacking food from her bag.
"Are you hungry? Do you like cheese?"
"Ah, sure...." That's my stock answer for both questions. I was startled and wasn't really thinking. I started unpacking the food that I brought.

"Do you like cashews?"

We started talking. (and eating) We had a nice little spread between the two of us. Fruit, nuts, cheese, cured meats..... She was a Dr. from Montreal visiting friends in NY. I knew she was older than I was, but I was genuinely surprised when she told me she was in her 70's. Her youthful demeanor, well-worn backpack and manner of dress (Jeans, sweater, vest) all betrayed the fact that she was an outdoor enthusiast; very active and young at heart. We talked the whole length of the trip, we talked about everything; Nothing was off limits.

Somewhere along the Hudson River between Manhattan and Lake Champlain I realized that my heart was on fire; I loved this woman. Not in a romantic way. Not in a sexual way. This was pure platonic love; intimate, affectionate, but not sexual. It felt like I had found another sister, a much older sister; and owing to the sisters that I have been blessed with, those are big shoes to fit into. Very few women have ever come close to that. I didn't know this person the day before, and here I was talking to her about my life, my joys, my woes, and listening intently to her speak about hers.

As we got nearer to the border there were a lot of announcements about the whole process for the border patrol going throughout the train. This was shortly after 9/11 and there was a gravity about the border crossing that I had never experience before. When we got to the border, she started packing up our spread saying "We probably should put our food away; I’m sure you don't want border patrol touching your nuts." I laughed and said that she was certainly right about that. I helped in the cleanup effort, making sure to put my cashews, trail mix and other goodies back in my back pack. Our trays were returned to the upright position as an unusual quietness descended upon the passengers. A few minutes later the Canadian border patrol came into our car; one guard stood at each end of the car - guns drawn, and two started going through the car checking passports. They were all female, by the way. Four female agents in Canadian border patrol uniform. Maybe it's me, but there's something about a woman in uniform…... I leaned over and said that I would like to rescind my last comment. In an otherwise quiet and very serious train car, the two of us were giggling uncontrollably.

We played games along the way; when we got into Canada I was trying to use my knowledge of Latin roots and interpret the contextual clues to decipher the French signs, particularly the billboard advertisements. In each case, I explained my logic and she graded my efforts. 

I was truly sorry when the ride was over. We exchanged numbers, but I lost her number during the trip. She was going to call on her next trip to New York, but I never heard from her again. As the years pass, I think about her from time to time. I don't think I ever experienced a moment when someone was just right there “in my face” so to speak - when I didn't want anyone to be; and yet I couldn't help but really, really appreciate that person for being there and for just being the person that they are. 

I think that I experienced a healing that day; whatever it was that had me in such a foul mood no longer mattered because I drank from the fountain of human kindness on that train from New York to Montreal. I discovered that sometimes the vessel that contains the milk of human kindness approaches us in disguise; it draws near in a form that we would rather avoid if we could. It approaches us at a time when we would rather drink a more bitter ale. This healing moment began when a better person than me made someone else’s problem her own, and ended up imposing herself on my precious solitude. True, I had choices. I could have declined her offer to share her food; I could have shunned conversation - turned my back on her and try to sleep or just stare out the window. I didn’t. I hold on to this memory like the treasure that it is for me and I would like for it to be among my last thoughts as this journey that is my life draws near to the border crossing between this world and the promised land. Perhaps this experience will appear as a stamp on my “passport” so that the “border patrol agents,” looking to see where I have been, will know that my journey has brought me to a few really good places.......

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Silent Exchange

I witnessed a sublimely beautiful thing yesterday; it moved me so much it took me a while to process. I was on the subway standing at the door and I could see an older couple standing by the next door over. Everyone between us was sitting down so I had an unobstructed view. They were considerably older than I am, which by my children’s standard places them one foot in the grave. Certainly not your spring chickens. She was shorter and slightly plump with perfectly coiffed golden brown hair; he was tall and thin with grey, thinning hair. 

In a tangle of appendages that quietly intimates femininity, she held her purse in the crook of her arm and in her hand she held a mirror at just the right angle. The other hand deftly applied her lipstick. One arm was wrapped around the pole for added stability, which seemed unnecessary because her balance and poise was spot on. Obviously a seasoned pro. 

The thing that moved me was the silent exchange between the two of them. As she finished applying the lipstick, they looked each other eye to eye. It was a deep, purposeful look; It seemed to me that they saw each others souls. She had a coy, playful expression that seemed to say “Oh, so you like what you see, mister?” He leaned in and whispered something in her ear. Which left her looking down with this incredibly beautiful self possessed smile that radiated joy. The two of them absolutely glowed. I almost felt embarrassed for witnessing this moment of true intimacy between two people. Who knows what they saw in each others eyes? I am inspired though; Love is trans-formative, and I am a better man for having witnessed it.

Featured Post

“No Fair!”

I enjoy walking to the train station after a long day of work. Call it what you want; exercise, therapy or just plain crazy. It doesn’t ...

Popular Posts