another curiously breezy August night in New York
City. i’m on my way home from a wine and cheese fete’
with some friends out near Corona. i had just gotten
off the E train and managed to catch the last Q83
before they stop going up the hill every 25 minutes.
as i get on with my ears full of a Ghostface Killah
mashup, i notice this one woman with her head down
on a huge black plastic storage container. her two
boys sat next to her, staring off into space. i move
to get a seat in the back since this bus usually gets
the bus jerked slightly. the reason being that this
older woman in a red and white striped sundress that
would’ve gone over well in an MGM musical had darted
in front of the bus to try to get on. the driver hit
the gas and proceeded down Archer Avenue to the front
of the bus stop area. she ran as fast as she could
and managed to get on, gasping for air.
a few minutes later, i look up from my book and i see
that the other woman with the container and the kids
has her head up. and she’s sobbing uncontrollably.
the tears gathered like rainwater under her eyes. she
was dressed in a sweater and black nylon pants. she
stared ahead, her lips not moving but her the rest of
her face was a mask of anguish. that is real pain. the
kind of despair that you don’t give a rat’s ass if
anyone sees. the kind of anguish that makes your heart
hurt with each gust of air into your lungs. it dawned
on me…she must be without a place to live. it would
make sense with the two boys next to her and the large
container. she must be going to the women’s shelter
over by St.Pascal’s church.
at that moment, the woman in the striped dress tapped
her on the shoulder. from where i was, i saw something
that i’ve seen so many times before in these New York
streets that other folks don’t believe happens often
here. and sometimes, even i can forget it does. it was
compassion. as the mother cried, the lady in the striped
dress spoke with her. calmed her. hugged her and gave
her strength. these are the moments missed once you
plug into your iPod, or your phone or disappear into
the pages of a book or newspaper. i couldn’t help but
stare at them.
as the bus reached the stop on 202nd Street and Murdock
Avenue by the church, the mother got off, edging her
kids in front of her. i saw that she also has a giant
red piece of luggage. my heart sank again. she must’ve
had to make a mad dash. who knows what – or who – she
left behind. and the two boys had this look on their
faces. it was a numb look, one that gives off the idea
that nothing in the world really could move you anymore.
the lady in the striped dress helped her with the black
storage container. as the bus pulled off, i saw them all
make their way down the block towards St.Pascal’s and the
PAL shelter. and while it saddened me, i’m glad i was
able to see it. just so i can keep reminding myself not
to be oblivious to pain because i don’t feel it.
that image stuck with me all of last night. it’s only
now that i’m able to write about it without a heavy
sense of sadness. because today, this mother and her sons
have a new day to start over. they’ve got a shot. one
that other mothers and other kids in cities and towns
throughout this country…hell, the world…may not
have. someone said something in a lecture i heard years
ago at a video engineers’ conference: “you beat the odds
just by showing up.” and that’s what they’ve done.