Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Subway Story

I just saw the most astonishing thing I've seen in over 4 years riding the New York City subway.

As I boarded the train, one guy was yelling obscenities at and threatening another seated guy for 5 minutes; the rest of us staring on in amazement, me hoping security would arrive to interrupt him. The guy next to me sat with his head in his hands, seemingly to block out the noise. Finally, the first guy comes and sits down across from us with one of his friends, both of them drunk, still talking loudly and swearing.

Finally, the guy next to me looks up and speaks up. "Your day could be worse, you know. I just found out I have cancer." It's clear he isn't joking.

The two guys across from are silenced, literally dumbstruck. "I'm sorry, man," one of them eventually mutters.

"It's OK," says the guy next to me. "I'm just saying, your day could be worse. I went to the doctor today and he told me I probably have cancer." His eyes are red: he's been sitting there, hiding the fact that he's been crying. As he speaks, his voice starts shuddering, then his whole body is shaking and he's weeping. This was not remotely an act. It was pure, visceral emotion.

Both men across from me were completely silenced now. The train stops at 34th Street and the two get off, but not before each lays a hand on the guy's shoulder and says, "I'm sorry, man."

"It's OK," he says. "Just remember, your day could be worse."

He got off at Union Square. I followed him off. We went our separate ways.

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