Currently I am in the South of France on a writing retreat. I went running on the mountain today and it was so beautiful that it made me thing of a not so beautiful moment back home, waiting for the F train in NYC.
Waiting on the platform, a disheveled man stood next to me. The next minute he fell in the tracks. I screamed. I weight 110 ten pounds and knew I couldn’t get him out and since nobody was helping him, I ran upstairs as fast as I could and told the MTA people behind the glass. Then I ran back downstairs.
When I arrived back at the scene, two men had pulled him out. His forehead was bleeding and he was clearly drunk and confused. The two men and I kept telling him that it would be all right, but that he needed to go to the hospital.
“No, no! I don’t have to go to the hospital. Don’t make me go.” he slurred over and over.
“But your head is bleeding and you’re not well.” I tell him. “You just fell in the tracks.”
But, he isn’t coherent. He is upset. He says he doesn’t want to go. I keep hoping the police or ambulance will get here soon to look at him and help him, but they don’t.
The man walks up the stairs, his face covered in blood , and there is nothing I can do to stop him.
My nerves are raw from the fact that a man had just almost fallen to his death. If a train had been coming he’d be up shit’s creek.
One of the guys who helped him out walks up to me. “Crazy, huh?” he says.
“Yes.” I say. “That poor guy.”
“I know.” he says.
Then a guy walks down the stairs. By coincidence, he knows the man I’m standing with and says to him, “Hey man, what’s up?”
“Dude, it’s crazy. This poor guy just fell in the tracks. It was surreal.” he says.
Without a blink of an eye the guy says, “Fuck. Does that mean the train’s delayed?”
At that very moment I hate this guy.
But, I’m wise enough now to know that anything I hate is in me, too, or else I wouldn’t be able to recognize it. I also see myself in him. New York does that to you. It tightens you and dehumanizes you without you even knowing it. Not all the time. But, sometimes. How does trying to catch the next train strip us of our humanity? Are we sensory overloaded? Are we afraid to feel because we see extreme wealth and poverty rub up against each other every day?
I don’t know, but a strange thing happens. I go from despising this stranger, to having compassion for him, and by extension, for myself.
The paramedics arrive looking for the person in trouble.
“You missed him.” I say.
Then the F train comes speeding up, the doors open, and I step on.