Someone was unkind to me today.
It happens. Whether it’s a stranger on the street, a family member, a friend… people are sometimes not very nice to one another. A bad day may make one irritable, insecurity can serve as the root for the criticism of others. Instead of letting this moment roll right off my shoulders, I allowed the energy to penetrate my calm exterior shell and burrow its way down into my chest, my stomach, my inner chakras in all their radiating colors. I couldn’t wait to get home and meditate the negativity away with “The Honest Guys” and Tension Tamer Tea (or “30 Rock” reruns… also very good for the soul). But as it goes in NY sometimes, the cherry on the cake of a rough moment was that trains were a mess, and I probably could have made it back to my Borough faster by camel.
I found a seat after my 14th train switch next to an elderly couple who didn’t speak a word of English. It wasn’t until after I sat down that I noticed the woman seemed a little agitated; her husband quiet, just along for the ride. Actually, she irritated me slightly when I got on the car because she was using the space next to her as a seat for her purse. (#BadNewYorker) But she moved it quickly when I asked politely to sit down. Eventually she began asking me frantic questions in whatever language was theirs about ‘Avenue N! Avenue N!’ Avenue N, I thought. Where the hell is that? So I got out my HopStop app and realized that not only were they on the completely wrong train, but getting them headed in the right direction involved several steps and more English than they seemed capable of.
I decided to write out the directions on a sheet of paper and attempted to indicate on a transit map what it all meant. The woman pretended (badly) to understand. I thought Well, if they get confused on one of the platforms they can just show the sheet to someone else and that person can direct them where they need to go. One of their transitions was coming up, which also meant that I was a mere 2 stops away from my tea and relief. I went to take one final look at this tiny woman as she gripped tightly to the paper I’d given her – white hair, furrowed brow, a husband who spoke less English than she did – and I suddenly found myself spying back on my negative experience from earlier that afternoon. In an instant, the idea of leaving them broke my heart. Yes, I was exhausted, yes I’d had to pee since Midtown, YES I had just been treated like shiitake by someone… But I just couldn’t leave them. How could I bank on another stranger to willingly direct this poor, elderly couple in a foreign land where they needed to go when my day had just reminded me that even someone you know will sometimes just as soon pee on you as look at you. The train they needed happened to be a train that I sometimes take to get home, so when the car doors opened, I ushered them to follow me and we all got out together. In the hustle and bustle of this busy terminal, the poor woman was trying to extract any last bits of information she might try to decipher from me, as if some new inflection of the word “R Train” might make us suddenly fluent in each other’s language. Finally, I pointed to me, then I pointed to her, then I put my hand on her shoulder, and making the walking gesture with my two fingers told her, ‘It’s ok, we’ll go together.’ And the sigh of relief and the look of gratitude that came over this woman’s being was enough to melt my heart in the maddening crowd.
During our train hopping and platform switching, I managed to figure out through our great language barrier that they were from Poland visiting family (Bialystok, to be specific… I pulled up a map on my phone once we were above ground). After some successful and failed attempts at small talk, we were finally on the right train, and the faces of both husband and wife lit up when they saw ‘Avenue N’ glowing in tiny red lights on the subway marquee. She asked for my phone number and I gave her my card. Later that evening, her brother called me. “Miss Kelli. Tank you so so very much. The people you helped today are ok. They are with me now.” I expressed how grateful I was that he called and that I felt so much better knowing they found him and had arrived safe and sound.
It can be easy to dismiss people when you're feeling down. Hey, let it be someone else’s problem, someone less tired and over it. And I must confess, for a split second I was headed down that path. Then I thought of the continuing domino effect of unkindness and became more sad at the thought of letting it continue instead of decreeing that the energy would stop with me. At the end of “Philomena”, Judi Dench’s character forgives someone who’s wronged her for several years and her friend says “What, just like that?” And her response is a shocked “No! Not ‘just like that.’ That was really hard. But I can’t go on being angry and bitter. Like you.” I guess I got a little Ricky Gervais in “Derek” today also… “I just know that when I’m good, I feel good. Kindness is magic.” It’s a seemingly simple idea, and yet if it were simple, more people would do it I suppose. Maybe the need to help these people came from the desire to prove that No, people are still good by nature. There is still kindness and it can be dominant when we choose it to be and by the power of Gray Skull, I WILL NOT BE BEATEN!!! It wasn’t the cure for cancer, but it felt like a small victory. Perhaps one can view the effort of turning negative energy into kindness the same way as starting a work-out routine; it’s really difficult at first, but once you get into the habit, it gets much easier and you don’t feel right or you miss it if you skip a day. Little dominoes first, I guess. But what I can see is that the light at the end of this tunnel appears much brighter than the one before I switched trains.