Whether it’s the facade painted on many a New Yorker’s face, or the anonymity granted by iPod headphones and cultivated Instagram feeds, people all too frequently are “fine.” Or, in the New Yorker’s case, have learned how to polish a persona so bright and shiny that they just transmit the appearance of another person, rendered in grayscale and trying not to touch the suspect subway poles.
So you start to assume that everyone is “just hanging in there” and “totally ok.” You forget to ask, to smile, to reach out because who’s going to turn around and reciprocate besides that guy always sitting on Broadway and 18th, telling you to “have a nice day” with his hat accepting lose change and the odd bill?
But like I posted on Facebook post-Robin Williams’ passing, you never really know what’s going on with someone inside.
Yes, it’s easy to become irritated by the people pushing past to get to their trains or offices – because really, is it all that important? – and yes, there are too many sights, sounds, smells, everything vying for attention and importance. And yes, it’s easy to fall into the gaping maw of self-centeredness that just happens when you feel over-stimulated, surrounded by too much energy and totally, utterly, disposable.
However, I read something interesting last night in that old Buddha book I’ve been trying vainly to finish. As much as I love it, I am totally ready for the brain candy of “Outlander” – don’t tell me you’re not totally into that series too. Cue picture of a Hot Man Brooding in a Kilt:
Anyway, sorry. One suggestion was to look at people as you go about your business and just bestow kind thoughts in their general direction. This would further practice lovingkindness and, in my humble opinion, generate some positive energy – something I certainly feel has been lacking on the N, Q, 4/5 and, today, in Union Square, where I stepped in and told some apparently very angry man to be kind to the old lady he was practically yelling at…for standing in front of the pickle samples.
He didn’t know why she was moving slowly, he didn’t know what she was doing or why, he just reacted and not in a pleasant way. That lady – and she was early 70s, rocking some great red hair and star earrings – could have been someone’s mom, sister or grandmother….my mom or grandmother. And I would hope that if someone spoke to her in that way, with that disrespect and impatience, I hope that a random person would object.
I tried to be patient just say, “look, just be kind.” I tried to remind him that he didn’t know this lady and that there was no need to be impolite; of course he became defensive and I reminded him that his tone was objectionable. I told him to remember that he didn’t know this woman, didn’t know what she was experiencing. He was on his own plane, and continued to be rude to the stall owner, finally leaving. I was shaking. I bought a pickle for a snack and chatted to the owner, the woman standing there. I left.
It was then that the words from the book hit me again: think kindly towards strangers. In the midst of ugliness, I tried to find a way to make the situation better, to add something pleasant and, by extension, beautiful, by reaching out and trying to calm the situation; I have no idea what kind of day this man was having either, but to treat him with the same anger would only be perpetuating more negativity. So I tried to be kind. I actually hoped that he would be feeling better. I also knew that I couldn’t be passive. That’s not who I am.
I am not the best person in the world. But I do know that if there is a way for me to put some of my truly good side out there, I can and I will. Because I am also terrible at being fake; my NYC facade is severely lacking and I guess to be real – crying on the subway and all – is the only way that I will continue to navigate, learn about and maintain balance in this city.
It’s one of a kind. And not always fine, despite appearances.
“I didn’t need these things. I didn’t need them.”