I recently experienced a renewed hope in humanity. It’s often easy to be discouraged about society’s trajectory. Just scroll through your Facebook feed or look at the news: criminal violence, scandals, demeaning talk, natural disasters. A pessimistic view of the future easily sets in...Can things really get worse? I guess there’s no turning back now…
I was traveling with two friends from Chelsea to LaGuardia. Following my Google Map directions, I headed down 28th on a windy, snowy evening…attempting to maneuver luggage through the hustle of Manhattan. To my surprise, the metro line I intended to ride was under construction. When the first subway arrived I confusedly asked a man inside if it was headed toward LaGuardia. Eager to hear me he stuck his head out the door. He quickly answered, “Yes!” just as the subway doors nearly took his glasses. When I was on my next train I didn’t see my stop. A polite man next to us explained where to go. In fact, he was getting off on the same stop. He kindly walked us to our connection and went on his way.
Once on the final train, I took a seat, resting my head on my luggage handle. A young gentleman across from me could probably tell I was tired and stressed. He genuinely smiled and asked why I was upset. How often do strangers take note of each other? People (yes I am guilty as well) are often absorbed in the “world” of their smart phones. We sit next to one another, but we don’t talk, make eye contact, or acknowledge another’s presence. This man not only recognized me, but expressed his honest concern.
“Perfect love of God and of neighbor can certainly be a subject worthy of an entire lifetime of meditation.” (2)
At Roosevelt Avenue I followed signs for the public bus to the airport. Spotting a bus, I quickly jumped on. The bus fare was $2.75. Since I’m not from the city, I didn’t have a bus card. Not only was the fare suppose to be exact change, it had to be coins. Awkwardly scrambling for money I quickly realized that I didn’t have exact change or coins. Glancing around the empty bus, I met eyes with one man and asked if he had change for $20. He didn’t have enough, but he offered exact change for the fare. Taking the stranger’s money, I attempted to pay. The driver looked and reminded me it had to be paid in coins (I had singles), but then she smiled and said, “Take a seat and enjoy your ride.” Realizing I wasn’t going to pay for the route, I walked over and gave the kind man his money back. I sat down, shook his hand and thanked him. To my surprise, he was a pilot for Delta. I finished my ride to the airport listening to fascinating stories about defying gravity.
I wouldn’t have made it to the airport without the help of kind strangers. I was reminded that I can’t do it all. When I was honest and vulnerable, I was met with guidance and mercy. The piercing gaze of Another reminded me that I am not alone. I was embraced by the mysterious love of five strangers amidst the busyness of New York. I experienced the same gaze from each person. However minimal your words, smiles, actions, or encounters are, they aren’t unnoticed. These seemingly small interactions with five strangers were, in fact, a glimpse of eternity. Which stranger will you be today?
“We become able, in the attitude of true simplicity, patiently to penetrate every situation, lend ear to every person, and attend to every task.” (3)
- Edith Stein, The Hidden Life.
- Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ.