Saturday, October 27, 2012

Small Acts of Intimacy

Riding the train in NYC is a constant source of entertainment and intrigue, a perfect petri dish in which to observe humans trying to maintain a bit of privacy in an utterly public location.  And more often than not, the train ride is just a slog from one spot to the next, trying to make it to work on time, or home before accidentally nodding off and ending up at Coney Island by mistake.  But amidst all the slogging, people tend toward surprising moments of helpfulness and caring.

One morning this past week I was riding a particularly crowded train when I felt a couple people start jostling into me.  I turned slightly to see what the commotion was, and behind me it seemed that a bundle of thin markers had fallen out of a man's pack.  Everywhere around this man people were bending over to retrieve the rolling markers, like a life-sized game of pick-up-sticks on the move.  He stood there a little awkwardly as markers were placed one by one back in his hand by perfect strangers, and I thought it a beautiful sight.

I get that this may not seem like such a big deal -- and it's not -- but the fact that people were willing to bend over and hunt after roly-poly marker pens on a packed was kind of them, and they did it without complaint or fuss.

Equally kind are all the times I see train-goers wedge open train doors as strangers fling themselves toward the train, trying to make it on at the last second.  Holding open a train door in New York is similar to catching an elevator door: you have to put a bit of force into it, but it's not likely to crush you like train doors in some other cities.  But, it really kind of scares me to hold open train or elevator doors.  I wish it didn't, but it does.  And so I hardly ever do this for someone running for the train, but it makes me sad each time I don't.  Consequently, I'm touched every time someone holds the door for me or for anyone else they don't know.  Both people will usually give a little nod or smile in acknowledgement, and then that's the end of it.  These are the moments that create a web of light between us, these points of humanity and connection in this hard and hurried city.

Last spring Greg and I stopped into a cafe I like on 2nd Avenue to peruse their 15+ varieties of cake.  I couldn't decide.  I wanted them all.  There was a guy sitting alone at table near me who, seeing my mounting cake distress, began to give me recommendations based on the flavors he usually chose when frequenting this shop.  The cake in front of him was chocolate mint; I asked how at was, at which point he suggested I grab a fork and try for myself.  Such an intimate thing to do: here, try my food, partake of it with me.  I don't even remember which cake I chose that day, but I do remember that this man offered me some of his, in the simplest and sincerest manner.

Sometimes it just seems like life can get dark and people can lose themselves in the overwhelming heaviness of it all.  I wonder whether it would make a difference if each of us were willing to give a bit more of ourselves, even to those we don't know.  To hold open a train door, or walk a person across the street, or to stop long enough to hear the pain or worry or confusion in someone else's voice...

The final pose in every yoga class is shavasana, or corpse pose.  Every breath and pose before is meant to prepare you for this last pose, the moment when you rest.  Yogis often bundle up a bit before settling into shavasana because your body temperature drops quickly as you cease moving.  During one of my recent classes, I had arranged myself for corpse pose: on back, eyes closed, breathing softly.  And without warning, my yoga instructor unfolded the yoga blanket lying beside me and covered me with it, tucking me in as a mother would her child.  Again, the simple intimacy of the moment touched me.  

May we all be blessed by such small acts of intimacy.  And may we endeavor to bless others in return.