“…like children, these men and women believe that the world began with their birth, and they never wonder if, on the ground they tread, others once trod with lighter steps or with fateful footfalls, if between the walls that shelter them others heard whispers or laughter, or if someone once read a letter out loud, or strangled the person he most loved.” – “When I Was Mortal,” Javier Marías
After a painfully long hiatus while I found a scanner and an apartment, not necessarily in that order, I have returned. With more thoughts than ever. If I’ve learned anything in my first few weeks in the Big Apple, it’s that the subway is great for two things: reading and people-watching, not necessarily getting you where you need to go (surprise, surprise!). Also, while it may be a completely obvious observation: there are so many people here. And I am extremely happy to report that New Yorkers on the whole, at least in my experience so far, are actually pretty wonderful. Granted, there are those individuals, like the small bald-headed man who started a temper tantrum in the line at Capital One declaring, “Some of us have jobs we have to get to!” But those seem to be the rare occasions.
I’ve started more conversations with strangers than ever before. An older woman at a McDonald’s who told me about her little terrier, a white-haired man on a bench in front of Le Pain Quotidien who told me he was an illustrator and had never used a computer in his life, a woman from Atlanta on the Subway platform, a couple who taught me a better-than-Patty-Cake children’s game…
Remember that whole, “don’t talk to strangers,” thing. Well, I say phooey. Obviously, you’ve got to be smart about who you choose to strike up a conversation with, but I think people are really missing out when they keep to themselves and ignore the people around them.
Friday night riding home on the 1 Train up to our happy home off of 207, the Subway was packed. There were about five of us holding on to one pole. A man in a white tank top with thinning hair and a kind face commented, “This pole’s where it’s at! Everybody wants to be here.” We all laughed and joked about losing people to our pole as one by one we went our separate ways. It was the smallest moment of connection, but it amounted to this really satisfying sense of belonging.
The next night, as I was waiting for the train I watched as the MTA janitor, a man with dreadlocks wrapped in a quasi-bun, struck up a conversation with a proper Hungarian woman finishing her dinner. He set his broom and dust pan aside, sat down and they had a full conversation about their experiences coming to the city– when, how, etc. That was great.
Being here, around and among so many people, makes me feel more alive somehow. It makes me wonder about not only who is here, but who was here: a week ago, a year ago, 10 years ago… It’s amazing to me how we feed off of one another even when we don’t know each other. How the smallest wave, glance or conversation can change everything.
Before leaving for the city, my mother said to me: “Christina, you’ve got to stop smiling and saying hello to everyone when you get up to New York. People are going to think you’re weird.” I worried about this because I wasn’t sure how I could stop. It’s just kind of in my nature. Well, now I know I don’t have to stop. A wave or a smile can mean so much. People just want to be acknowledged, they want to tell us their stories. And I’m happy to listen.