“It is through simple moments we are refreshed”
I hadn’t been to this particular city for quite some time and was a bit apprehensive. I was in New York City to accept the WhyHunger 2012 Harry Chapin Self-Reliance award on behalf of my organization. As I prepared to disembark from the airtrain connecting JFK to my link to the subway, I made a request of my mother, who resides on another plane of our existence. “Mom, you always loved taking the train into Manhattan and catching a play, so you better help me out here”. I was under the impression, growing up, that mom was pretty tight with our maker.
As I came to the subway turnstiles, I saw to my right a bank of automated machines from which I should purchase my subway ticket. I approached one and made my selection. When it came time to pay, the machine refused to cooperate. It was a touchscreen system. Very easy to navigate. I touched “go back”. Nothing. I touched “cancel”. Still nothing. I tried several times and still the screen remained obstinately frozen.
A young man to my right glanced over and offered to help. I explained and demonstrated my situation. He offered to try and selected the appropriate option. It instantly went through!
He asked where I was going. I explained, adding I wasn’t sure which stop I needed to reach the appropriate exit at Penn Station. He said he was going that way and why don’t I just follow him. I should get off at the stop before his.
As we stood on the platform, he told me of his struggle that day to get to the Dominican Republic. I would soon learn his sister had died there a year ago, at the age of 22. His family was having a ceremony to honor her. His day’s story involved a series of odd occurrences that seemed to be designed to keep him in New York, just as he had been kept from her a year previous.
As we embarked on our journey, he indicated I should sit with him and he would make sure I got off at the right time. The trip would be about 45 minutes.
Over the course of the trip, he proceeded to tell me about his sister. He shared that she was 10 years younger and they were inseparable. She couldn’t eat much at one time, so he would feed her a little throughout the day. Food – the great connector. He felt responsible for her. She was attending college in the Dominican and was to have graduated this May. She was a collector of sunglasses and when he heard her ear was severed in the accident, he wondered how she would be able to wear her sunglasses. His sharing of this intimately telling me his heart connected with hers.
Pieces of two lives. Intertwined. Separated.
He didn’t tell me her name and I didn’t think to ask. He showed me pictures of the two of them as young children. Her reputation in the DR was as an activist for water and food rights. He showed me two photos of her in an issue of National Geographic. She was a beautiful young woman and reminded me of Sharbut Gula.
He related that their parents had not allowed her to have a vehicle in the DR. On this occasion, her mother relented, and allowed her to borrow their jeep to attend a party. At 10:30, his mother called her and urged her to head home. She had a “feeling” he said. “You know, you mothers”, he remarked to me, “have these feelings.” (I hadn’t said a word about being a mother, but I am, and I do.) His sister said she would be leaving soon. At 11:30, his mother called again. The voice on the other end said there had been a bad accident, but they didn’t know who had been involved. His mother did.
His sister was in intensive care for 8 days. She had numerous surgeries and was in an induced coma. Stuck in Brazil, he was unable to get a flight to her before she died. “Again today”, he says to me, “it is like a year ago.” Why, he asked?
He told me he is an accountant, but not at the moment, working. He lives on 42nd Street. “It isn’t like it was before,” he tells me. “It is cleaned up”. (I wondered at the time why he would say that to me, as if knowing I was acquainted with its history.) He has traveled extensively all over the world.
I want to express that I felt nothing more than “comfortable”. I had a sense of his being “all people”. No particular nationality or religion. That is the best I can say.
To answer his question of “why”, I told him sometimes a story is not about us. It is about another person and their journey. Or the story is not for today, it is for the future. Perhaps connecting the past with the present. I related to him that I had asked for my mother’s help and suggested his sister is with him, watching over him and using him for good things. That I believed she no doubt “told him” there was a woman in the subway that needed his help. I related that I believe our stories do not end with our earthly journey, but that we continue with new journeys – each one comprised of various chapters.
His sister was an artist and writer, along with her talents of fighting for social justice. And he showed me the tattoo of her art work he wore on his wrist and the words “101 razones para…” It was short for a piece she had written – 101 Reasons to Cry, 101 Reasons to Smile.
At best, I can only describe my encounter with this young man, as spiritual. He accepted my explanation without question and complete understanding. His story finished exactly as his stop arrived. That is to say, he got off one stop before mine, saying he had made a mistake and that I was to get off at the next stop. He disembarked and as he did, I noted I could no longer see him. As if he hadn’t existed.
Interestingly, like his sister, I am a food activist. I love sunglasses and have many pairs. I write.
Is this story about me? Reinforcing my spiritual beliefs? Was our meeting about him and filling his need of not being alone at that particular moment? Was he my guardian angel? Or was I his?
It no longer matters. A met need. Today I felt compelled to tell my story.
My companion’s name? Ivan. Gift from God.