Learning to be grateful

If you live in the tri-state area around New York City you probably heard about the big fireon the railroad tracks that shut down Metro North last week.  But even if you live far away from the east coast of the U.S., you may be able to relate to my story about being caught up in the mass of humanity that was trying to ‘get home’ during that evening.

There were tens of thousands of us caught up at Grand Central terminal. The trains were all stopped – nothing going in or out of the city. All of us were in the station, standing around, eating dinner (for those of us that hadn’t eaten yet).  Waiting. Listening for the garbled announcements. When word finally came, it was not what we wanted to hear. For those of us going up to Connecticut, we were told to “go to Bryant Park and take the D up to Fordham station. Metro North trains will take you from there.”

Though I’d lived in NYC for seven years, commuting from the upper West side and from Brooklyn (Park Slope), I’d never taken the D train. I had no idea where the subway stop was and I didn’t know where Fordham station was, either. I was afraid to use my phone to do search after search – for a subway map, for the subway app – because the battery was low and I needed to make calls later – perhaps even get an Uber from the station to get home.

Fortunately, it turns out I didn’t have to worry about my phone or directions. I didn’t have to know how to get anywhere. It was stunningly easy. Once I made the decision to go, all I had to do was follow the mass of humanity that was similarly on the hoof. True, I was carting around my suitcase (having just flown in to LaGuardia), but it was light and the wheels worked fine. There were others who had small children to carry, larger suitcases, or were older and tired from a long day at work.

As I followed the crowd out of Grand Central, I ran into people who were talking about going to the same station that I was bound for, so we walked and talked.  None of us knew how to get to Fordham station so we all just followed the crowd.

New Yorkers on the sidewalks were over-run by us. Their cell phones came out, as they took videos of the river of people migrating from Grand Central Terminal. The first of many bottlenecks came at Bryant Park station (just a few blocks away), as we all poured into the subway stop (northbound). We all stopped walking and had to wait our turn: funneling into the subway down the stairs, going through the turnstiles, and then walking down more stairs to the platform.

It was there, in a crowd worthy of the film “Crocodile Dundee” that I met two women who would determine the course of the evening. The first was a young woman, still in her scrubs, fresh from the doctor’s office (ENT) where she worked. She had the subway app on her phone and was informing those around her which train went where (we discussed the virtues of the B, which was local, versus the D, which was express but far more rare). Her great attitude and helpfulness was a breath of fresh air in the confusion of the crowds and I liked her immensely – as did others, who were grateful for her help.

The second woman appeared to be a few months pregnant (though one never assumes someone is pregnant unless you are told). While she certainly had more reason to complain than others of us, she remained focused and calm, almost peaceful. We all stood vigil there, waiting for what seemed like an eternity, watching subway train after train pass by, filled to the brim already with passengers.

As people wondered aloud when we’d finally get on a train, or get home, she noted quietly, “At least we all have homes to go to. Warm beds. And a roof over our heads. We’re not Syrian refugees. We all have somewhere to go tonight and we’ll get there… eventually.”

That was the moment when I relaxed, knowing how right she was. Yes, it would be a late night (I got off the train a few minutes before midnight, having started my journey at 8:00 pm). But it was more of an inconvenience, or an adventure, than anything else.

I met lovely people along the way. I saw people helping one another (one elderly gentleman took a tumble down some stairs and a small crowd stopped to help him and be sure he was alright.)

 Most importantly, I felt a great pang of compassion for those who have left home with only the clothes on their backs. I didn’t have anywhere near the experience they did, of course. And that was the point. I was grateful – even for my four hour journey. In the end, I had a bed to fall into and a roof over my head. I am one of the lucky ones.

Has anything made you feel grateful lately?