The clock hits 12am. It’s May 13th. It’s my birthday. I’m in a good mood. Despite the fact that I’m coming dangerously close to 40 (or perhaps because of it), I find myself reflecting on humanity, as it too grows older – day-by-day, year-by-year.
There’s a lot going on these days. And, relative to decades and centuries past, we’re all increasingly aware of worldwide goings-on, good and bad – mostly bad. Due, perhaps, to the immediacy of the Internet, the 24-hour news cycle and the fact that modern word-of-mouth is way more about Twitter and text messaging than airmail and tea parties, we’re constantly bombarded by stories of woe in real time.
With all that information coming at us from every corner of the globe, one could be forgiven for thinking that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. The entire Middle East is in revolt, we’re besieged by earthquakes and tornadoes, and Bernie Madoff stole 60 billion dollars from … everyone.
However, because I’m in a good mood, I feel compelled to recount a tale that offers proof of man’s inherent goodness.
I didn’t kill nobody
Being a New Yorker, I sometimes wonder if everyone still thinks we’re all criminals. There was a time, not so long ago when Times Square was filled with porn shops and muggers. We had a capacious murder rate that rivaled Syria and you were as likely to be accosted by roving gangs on the subway as you were to reach your final destination.
Well, just in case no one got the message, it’s not like that anymore. In fact, we have fewer murders per capita than most major US cities. Your average New Yorker moves about with great purpose and hardly the time to consider your very existence, much less relieve you of your watch at knifepoint.
Take the F train
So, I’m sitting on the F train the other day heading up to Union Square and a tourist saunters on. She’s holding a subway map in one hand, in the other, a shopping bag sporting the name of a nondescript boutique on West 8th. She’s got a camera, a Yankees cap, the whole nine. As the bell rings and the doors close, a dour look inhabits her face as reality dawns with the heaviness of her plight.
It takes her all of a minute to make peace with the fact that she may very well end up in the Bronx if she doesn’t figure out where to get off. So she turns to the closest person she can find and asks, “Does this train stop at Grand Central?”
No, actually the F train does not go to Grand Central, she’s told. Again, her face betrays the tumult within as she fancies herself one step closer to oblivion.
That’s when humanity shows it’s true colors. Damn if every single person on that train doesn’t jump to her rescue as though their lives depend on it.
You see, there is nothing – and I mean nothing – that New Yorkers like more than helping other people figure out how to get where they’re going. Part of it is pride: New Yorkers consider it a badge of honor to know every stop of every train whether it’s the 7, deep into the heart of Flushing, or the L, full of hipsters on their way to Williamsburg.
It was mere minutes before this woman, this lonely traveler from a far away land, was surrounded by every color, creed and sexual orientation New York has to offer; a melting pot of helping hands, all battling for the opportunity to help this lonely soul find her way in the big city.
“She should transfer at 42nd!” the old woman said to the six foot black guy in shorts and combat boots.
“No, she can’t do that. The E is running on the C line this weekend because of construction,” countered the Pakistani as a small Hispanic woman pushed her way into the crowd.
“No honey, listen to me. Get off at the next stop, take the L to Union Square and get the six.”
And on it went for the better part of 5 minutes. I just sat there and watched, bemused and warmed by a group of complete strangers from every background and mindset, helping their fellow commuter find her way. Discussing, cajoling, arguing – but in the most delightful fashion. No judgment, no glaring, no holier-than-thou.
And then it was over. A microcosm of togetherness and understanding that appeared out of nowhere, and vanished just as quickly.
Sure, it’s a small victory for humanity. Wars will not be averted by such things. But it put a smile on my face. A real smile. The traveler was grateful, the conversation broke up as people paired off and exchanged some final words and common jokes. And the world went on as it does – day-by-day, year-by-year.