For someone who has waited all his life for steady companionship, the city—despite its millions who seemingly cannot make eye contact with a stranger—provides an astonishing comfort. It’s there just south of Central Park, where immense buildings rise to silently scrape the night skies,
their lights aglow with the promise of tomorrow, that a new day will bring more and better life. Or perhaps it’s the fresh air there, the gift of the great Park, that vast and precious acreage without which the city would be a distraught, man-made jungle.
The buildings themselves appear as a miracle. One wonders on seeing them how they were erected, how anything that tall can come to be. Their architectural variety sometimes has an almost comical effect. But not tonight.
I took a subway ride on two lines tonight to have a simple supper of soup at my favorite cafe just off 71st Street, where all kinds of people take their meals: sturdy, burly cops; old women wrapped up against this evening’s slight chill; harried-looking people in pursuit of the quick bite. Everyone eats there. The cooking is simple and tasty. You can sit at the storefront counter and watch the Upper West Side world go by as you try to count all the lights in the glass,
wondering which ones are inside and which are out—not that it matters. It’s just a game to play while you think about other things, like your route home to the Village, another world among the many in the city.
I had brief meetings with a couple of dogs, one a secretive Shiba Inu, the Japanese breed with the curled tail, a dog more akin to a cat than a canine. And as I walked toward Central Park—tonight I couldn’t bring myself to get right back on the train and grind my way back home—a wire-haired terrier asked me to stop and greet her. Her master was surprised. “She likes you,” he said, as he watched her nuzzle up to me. “She doesn’t like people. She doesn’t pay much attention to them. But she likes you. Look at that!” I told him I was the same way.
I think many here know that life is hard, that life requires some faith, and probably a lot of faith. Everywhere there are signs of that, posted by persons unknown but very knowing.
I hope I will soon meet some of them.
Some here know that, beyond faith, life needs something more: some beauty, some light, some warmth.
Tonight there was marvelous comfort in a packed-to-the-rafters subway car, where you’re absolutely prohibited from moving, even from hoisting your own arms to your nose should you need to scratch it. You think of sardines in that little tin. But you know you cannot fall; there is a mass of humanity surrounding you, supporting you, keeping you upright. And for a few glorious minutes you can tell your story to another man, a total stranger who has no choice but to face you because he, too, cannot move. So you tell your story, the tale of the cuddle party you attended last week, and you both smile. A young woman listens with a disconcerted sort of wonder in her face and a slight grimace on hearing the words “cuddle party.” She does not understand. But you understand. You know how comforting it feels to be close to someone, to feel a part of humanity in that way. People need this. They don’t even know it. They fight it—and they shouldn’t. We are here in this great city to learn to love each other unconditionally, or at least to accept the infinitely varied human condition. Love is all that will unite us. Love is all that will save us.
As the train screeches to a halt, you realize that the man on the other side of the car has reached his stop. He smiles at you. You smile at him reassuringly, and you tell him that you will help him exit the car. The door opens (which is magic in itself considering how many millions of times those car doors have to open and close) and the car just exhales most of its riders, you included, at the Lincoln Center stop on 66th Street. You wish the man a pleasant evening. Something big must be happening at Lincoln, you think, as so many have left the car. Then the car takes a deep breath, and we who need to continue our jolting journey enter the car again.
It has been a long sort of day, and we dearly hope that everyone, wherever he or she may be, has earned good rest.