new yorkers will know what i mean.
tired, after christmas shopping all day, t and i were waiting for the L train to whisk us back to brooklyn. when the train came, of course, we were standing between two cars, and as the left looked nearly empty, and the right, the last and always the most crowded, was quite crowded, we immediately went into the train car. we were tired, and wanted to sit.
immediately, we both noticed the foul smell in the car, and commented on it, but were tired. people moved to the next carriages, noses wrinkled, while others, like us, grateful to have a seat, remained. it wasn't the worst i've smelled, and i've smelled some really terrible things before. we ignored it as best we could, and talked about our day. at the next stop, people entered, made faces, and ran into the next very-crowded cars. (this is the same as the non-air-conditioned train in the summertime.)
at 3rd avenue, these boys--probably fourteen years old to seventeen years--ran in, whooping, shouting. then--"damn, this shit stink!" "this car smell like SHIT!" "disgusting!" "what the fuck smell so awful?" and etcetera.
the smell was coming from a man at one end of the car (we were at the other) who was obviously homeless. he had a bunch of stuff--his personal belongings--with him, possibly all he owned. he was wearing an ill-fitting shirt and stood there stoicly, not letting his facial expressions change.
but as the boys shouted (some of the large group ran into the next crowded car, while the others stayed to complain and shout about the smell), i could see his eyes. his eyes were obviously sad. he was not some shadow with a pile of cardboard boxes. he was a person. a person who has hopes and dreams and one day probably lived in a home like me too. and something went wrong. everyone has their own story. you can't forget this; everyone has their past, present and future.
on the walk in the train station, we entered at 16th street and walked down the long platform underground (as opposed to walking above ground in the freezing cold) and saw several different people sleeping, cardboard covering them or below them, and i thought about how truly lucky i am. i also thought about how silly the packages we carried in our hands as christmas gifts.
when we left the train, rather than feeling grateful to be exiting the smell, we both felt sad at how the feelings were hurt of that person. "kids are cruel," could be an easy excuse, but i was a kid, and i had more empathy than that. rather, instead, i thought about how people forget kindness and forgot that all people are humans and all humans are people.