Friday, October 12, 2007

Standing and Understanding

It is a legend urbanely acknowledged that one of the surest ways to disconnect yourself from humanity without having to commit suicide or move to a deserted island is to take up residence in New York City. Nowhere else can you move so anonymously--so quite alone--in the shadows of buildings and underground tunnels. It was a little after 7:30 yesterday evening. I had just gone through the turnstyle at the Chambers Street Station, on my way to catch a train uptown. A man in a wheelchair sat at the top of the stairs and as I zipped past him, I slowly realized: there was no mechanical access that would have allowed him to descend. I also realized that we were the only two people on the staircase. I managed to stop my downward spiral and throw my voice in his general direction. Do you need any help, I asked in the brusque tone I use with a stranger. He replied that he did. I swung my satchel over my shoulder and lifted his wheelchair, unsure how heavy it would be. It turned out to be much lighter than I thought, and the man, without legs to speak of, made it down the stairs on his hands. He got into his chair and thanked me. But as I stood on the platform waiting for the subway, deep inside I felt it was I who owed him--for giving me, at the end of a long day, a chance to feel something like relevance.

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