In every place I’ve ever lived, I’m now realizing, I’ve spent most of my travel time in the car. I grew up in Suburbia and that was just the way travel happened—in your car, mostly alone or with people you already know.
Strangers can be seen from the chest up at red lights or in passing on a two-lane road or as a blur as you drive past them on the street. They aren’t visible or distinct. And they aren’t ‘many’.
In New York, I spend most of my travel time walking or on the subway surrounded by a lot of other people – who are all spending their travel time walking or on the subway surrounded by a lot of other people.
And when this happens, you see a lot.
You see a lot of pretty things. Because New York is full of beautiful people.
You see some really ugly things. Things that rip your heart out. Because you aren’t in a wheelchair, deformed, irreversibly harmed. Because your young children aren’t standing with you at a bus stop at 11pm on a chilly Monday night when they should be home, sleeping, in a warm bed. Because you aren’t obese or otherwise unhealthy. Because you don’t look lost, lonely, sad, penniless, friendless, homeless, forgotten…
Because you’re praying to god that this is never you. That other people won’t walk by you and have their own hearts fill with pain.
There’s this moment—seeing these things that make me feel a physical discomfort that is akin to the time I got a shot in the bottom of my foot, ie. deep, stunning, raw, core shaking—where I get to choose where I want to go with the sickening sensation.
Is my life mine because of luck? What if that is me in 10 years, 10 months, 10 days? That’s not the life I want. Do I have a choice?
Can I help these people? Do they want to be helped? Do they even feel sad?
The other morning, I saw a few homeless people gathering their things from the building alcove where they’d presumably slept. There was one girl who looked to be in her 20’s. And as I ran by, pre-dawn, she said something that made them all burst out laughing. The sound was joyous. And full.
Who am I to think my life is better than theirs? How things look on paper aside, some days, I’m quite sure, it’s not.
And so the questions run. As I move down city streets wishing—for as long as I can remember now (7 or 8 years old?), on fallen eyelashes, birthday candles, found pennies, whatever I can find—that everyone be safe and happy.
Image credit: emanuela franchini