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There is a Light that Never Goes Out

26 Mar
Chicago Winter. Photo by MAG

Chicago Winter. Photo by MAG

The first time I’d seen him, he was bundled in a camel overcoat, fast asleep.

I thought I was extremely lucky when I hopped on the almost empty El car at the Chicago stop and grabbed a seat during rush hour, but once the doors closed, I quickly realized why the car was deserted.  The stench coming from the corner made my eyes water and I followed the lead of the man next to me and pulled my scarf up over my nose and mouth to filter the air enough to be able to make it to the Clark/Division stop where I quickly changed cars.

I didn’t really think much about it after that.  Over the past year, I’ve become acclimated to riding public transport and have learned to adjust to the inevitable clash of cultures, and this brutal Chicago winter has made me even more aware of the challenges faced by the city’s poor and homeless residents.   The CTA became a refuge from the subzero temperatures, and to their credit, the CTA employees who run the trains did their best to shepherd the all-day riders onto one car in order to keep an eye on people and make sure no one froze to death.

Last week, I saw him again.

I recognized the tattered camel overcoat, and the smell.  As he walked the platform the crowd of people parted and gave him a wide berth.  When he found a bench to settle down on, the man sitting there got up and moved ten feet away.  Everyone on the platform turned their backs and looked away as if not looking would make the man – and the smell – disappear.  I wanted to look away, too, but I’d just written my last blog entry about how I was going to smile at strangers and help when I could, so I looked.

The man sat on the bench fiddling with a pair of ripped gloves that barely covered his fingers, a tattered black plastic bag at his feet.  He stared at the ground as he tugged his coat, pulling it more tightly around his body, as I debated about what I should do.  And then in an instant, I knew.

I walked over and leaned down close enough to say, “Good morning, sir.”  Startled, the man looked up and then looked away quickly.

Taking a deep breath, I continued, “Have you had breakfast?”

He looked back up, confused for a moment, and asked, “What?”

I repeated, “Have you had breakfast yet?”

He ducked his head and gestured toward the black bag, “Not yet, but I’m going to have a bite soon.”

I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out the PBJ sandwich that I’d packed before I left the apartment that morning and offered it to him, saying, “It’s just PBJ, but you’re more than welcome to it.”

He smiled a little and replied, “Oh no, ma’am, I’m fine.  I’ve got breakfast in this here bag. But thank you.”

My first impulse was to press further and make him take the sandwich, but I quickly understood what he was saying and backed off, tucking the sandwich back into my bag.

Sometimes preserving one’s dignity trumps hunger.

I smiled at him, and asked a question that I would spend the next few days kicking myself for asking, “Do you need anything else, sir?”

What kind of idiot question was that?  Of course he needing something else.  He needed a lot of things, but since he’d refused the sandwich I didn’t know what else to offer and I didn’t want to insult him by assuming I did.

He smiled back at me, and replied, “Oh no, I’m fine, ma’am.  Thank you.”

As I looked at him and nodded, he lifted his head and looked right into my eyes as he smiled in a way that could only be described as serene and said, “And God bless you, ma’am.  God bless you.”

I returned his smile and his blessing, and then stepped on the train leaving him sitting on the bench.

As the car sped down the tracks I felt sad for a moment because I hadn’t been able to do anything for the man.  I hadn’t been able to give him anything or help in any measurable way.

And then I thought about the way he’d looked me in the eye, raising his head and smiling as he blessed me.

Maybe the greatest gift we can offer another person is the dignity of being seen.

A Heart in New York

2 Oct

Photo by DMT

I’m so homesick for New York.

A few weeks ago, while dog sitting for a friend, I watched “Hitch” – and cried.  It wasn’t the heartwarming message about being yourself and trusting that the right person will come along and love who you are that made me cry [although, that is a legitimate thing to get teary about].  I cried because when Eva Mendes left her loft to go to work, I caught a glimpse of the cobblestone streets of SoHo and a painfully deep longing to be back in New York City ripped through me, again.

Subway platform. Photo by DMT

I’m homesick for the sound of the subway train cars pulling into the station, the woosh of the doors opening and closing, and the feel of being tugged forward in space as it moves forward toward it’s next stop.  I miss the way New Yorkers are able to create a discreet bubble of space, even on the most crowded subway car, by simply shifting their gaze and looking away from those immediately surrounding them.  D. once said that in a city of eight million, he loves the fact that he can still be a solitary man [and then added, “No Neil Diamond jokes, please.”].

I’m homesick for the way it feels to walk down streets bathed in sunshine on one block and shrouded in shade, the next.  I ache to feel the shift in seasons as the city responds to the earth’s rotation and adjusts.  I’ve always said that fall in Michigan is, perhaps, the most wonderful part of living in this state because the brilliant foliage highlights all of the natural beauty this state has to offer, but I’d trade it all, right now, to be experiencing the smooth slide from September into October in New York City.

I want to open my eyes and see the brilliant kaleidoscope of buildings, traffic, and people.  I want to listen to the cacophonous symphony of sounds that honk and beep and shout out the rhythm to the soundtrack of the city.  I want to feel the solid pavement under my feet as I bounce down steps that sink into the connective tissue that is the subway.  I want to breathe deep smell the scent of the city from the Hudson Bay all the way to Harlem. I want to wrap my arms around the city and pull it close enough to feel the pulsing, throbbing force that embodies all of my hopes and dreams.

I’ve been walking the streets of the city again, thanks to Google Earth, and as a result, my night time dreams are filled with vivid images of vintage clothing stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and small corner bodegas.  In my dreams the streets come to life; living and breathing, as traffic rushes by frantically marking the minutes with the constant clicking pulse of the cab drivers’ rooftop signs.  In Service. Dark.  In Service. Dark.

The other night I dreamed I lived in a huge apartment inside a building that seemed to soar through the sky.  One entire wall of my home was made up of floor to ceiling windows that let in light that illuminated every corner and warmed my face while I stood sipping my early morning cup of coffee.  Standing next to the windows, I could see the entire city waking up as the sun began to rise, its rays bouncing off of the steel and glass as it stretched toward the sky. I woke up smiling.

TriBeCa. Photo by DMT

I dream of spending Saturdays walking the High Line, the elevated 1.5 mile park that runs from the West Village through to Hell’s Kitchen.  Or browsing one of the Brooklyn Flea Markets looking for that “one of a kind” purchase that will turn a dumpy studio apartment into an avant-garde showcase of original flea market discoveries.  Or browsing the collections at the New York Public Library, then sitting down in Bryant Park with a cup of hot coffee and losing myself in a newly discovered literary treasure.

It’s not that I don’t love where I am right now, it’s that I can feel New York pulling me closer and my will to resist is weakening.  I know what’s practical, what’s rational, and what’s reasonable, but when the city begins to weave its seductive magic, I become helplessly tangled in its spell.

It’s not that I think I can move any faster than I am or make things happen any quicker than they already are, it’s just that the intense ache that occasionally pushes its way into my daily life, reminds me that the city’s out there – impatiently waiting – and that I need to take action and get myself moving in its direction again.

I don’t want to cry because I miss New York City; I want to cry because I can’t believe I no longer do.

Let it Rain

27 Aug

City Hall Park - Photo by DMT

It looks like New York City is about to be hit by Hurricane Irene, and the prediction is that it’s going to be a huge hit on the costal areas.  So far, the subway system has been shut down, and authorities are urging people in low-lying areas to evacuate before the eye of the storm hits New York. Mayor Bloomberg has made it mandatory for those people living in Zone A to move into safer zones.

I’m a little concerned because D. and his family live in Zone A, but if I know my friend, I’m pretty sure that he’s stocked up on the essentials and is probably in a pub in a safe zone, having a beer – or two – while watching the progress on his computer, iPhone and a couple of televisions.  Hopefully he will check in after the worst of the storm has passed, and maybe he will even have some photos of Mother Nature’s Drama to share!

Meanwhile, for those who are interested, here is a link to the Livestream Video of mid-town Manhattan, and Amanda Marshall’s version of “Let it Rain.”

August 28, UPDATE:

It looks like Irene didn’t hit as hard as forecasters predicted she would, but she still managed to pack quite a punch!

Check out readers’ photos on the NY Times site – there are some amazing pictures of before and after the storm.

August 29, UPDATE:

D. checked in and said that although the storm was an inconvenience, he and his family are doing fine and their home and business – and the city – all survived the storm.

While I was concerned, I also had absolute faith in the fact that my friend – and my city – would weather the storm and bounce back with their indomitable spirit intact!

Now, if I just had some pictures…

Snow

4 Jan

Fulton Subway entrance. Photo by DMT.

Once again, reality trumps idealism.

Call me naive, but I thought snow storms in New York City would be less….well, just less than storms in Michigan.

What was I thinking?

A week and a half ago, New York was hit by a major blizzard and for a few days the city ground to a halt.  Bus, subway, and train services were cut off as workers shoveled the streets and tracks to no avail.

Parked Cars. Photo by DMT

The airports shut down, leaving at least one study abroad student from my college [and hundreds of thousands of other travelers] stranded for several days.

Brooklyn Bridge. Photo by DMT

And yet, my daring, adventurous friend, D., found a way to turn the inclement weather conditions into another amazing photo shoot!  I’m sharing his pictures, but I don’t have much in the way of commentary since I’ve not actually been in NYC during a snow storm.

Snowbound on John & William Streets. Photo by DMT.

All I can say is that in all of its seasonal incarnations – New York City is beautiful!

Nassau Street. Photo by DMT

One Year to Move soundtrack

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