a few weeks ago, i listed quite the litany of grievances i had with the subway. and they were really quite bad. and in this post i'm not going soft on the subway. it’s a disgusting and foul place and honestly, that’s on it’s good days. but the thing about the subway, the reason it’s so vile, is it’s all humanity all at once. all the world riding around in a tin can for two bucks. underground. it brings out characters for sure. the subway doesn’t need to apologize for itself – it is what it is. but within all the muck there are also some genuine moments too – thousands of human beings forced into interacting with one another every day leads to that as well. some are small moments, like giving up your seat for a pregnant lady, and some are larger – delivering the pregnant lady’s baby on the platform. so the subway, in it’s never-ending wisdom, decided to school me in this lesson, real hard.
a few fridays ago i left work a bit early to go pick up a package – it was a long trip out to the depths of brooklyn and a long trip back home. i left work before the commuting hour, so it was a little less crowded, a little more calm. i was about halfway home when a little girl got on the train – she couldn’t have been older then three – pint-size for her age, which you know means she was extra cute. she sat down with her mom and, in her tiny little hand, was a solitary grape. her mom took the grape and opened it up a bit to get out the seeds before handing it back to the girl. then, just as she was reaching for her first bite, the train lurched. she dropped the grape onto the subway seat that, if we learned anything about my previous stories, is a bit too filthy eat food off of. the mom quickly scooped up the doomed grape and threw it in her bag – i assume she thought the quicker it was out of sight, it was out of mind. she told her daughter “uh-oh, all gone!” while rubbing her back as she knowingly straddled the fine line between total melt-down and maybe just a little disappointment. the little girl, in all her bravery, let her lip quiver a bit, and blinked back a few confused tears, mercilessly sparing the car from a meltdown. but i couldn't help but be sad for her, too. that little upset face over this one, solitary grape. a grape! i mean, if i dropped a grape i can’t even begin to detail just how little i would care. but that grape was everything to that little girl in that moment – it was sweet and funny and sad and laughable all at once. emotions children seem very apt at inspiring in adults all at once.
a couple more stops blew by when the little boy sitting next to me got up and walked over to the little girl. he was older – seven or eight – and also traveling with his mom. he glanced back once for encouragement before handing the little girl his bag of cookies (famous amos, a staple in any good american kid’s lunch). the little girl was confused as she took the bag from him after some encouragement from her mother. and as it dawned on her that she was now the new owner of a whole bag of cookies, her little face lit up as if it was christmas morning and with a smile that made sure to show off all her tiny baby teeth, she squealed “thank you!” before running off the train with her mom.
And my heart grew two sizes that day and i thanked the good lord for the invention of over-sized sunglasses as i teared up. the moms encouraging kindness, charity and politeness, the little ones learning selflessness, gratefulness and graciousness. it was just so many damn good things to see happening, in a world that we’re often told is going to hell in a handbasket.
i know there will be more rats, and people vomiting - but there’s also going to be cookies and cute kids and good parents and acts of selflessness as well. it makes me think that perhaps the handbasket just might go in another direction one of these days.