I’ve always found it fascinating that in a city of approximately 1.5 million people, very few individuals are aware of anyone other than themselves. Irritating, actually.
Yes, irritating is a much better way to describe how I felt one evening after work last week when I hopped on a crowded uptown-bound subway (pardon the redundancy) and had to say “excuse me” when a stranger stopped abruptly in the doorway—completely oblivious to the fact that there were other people behind him.
This was a rather mundane occurrence, yet I felt as if someone had taken a pair of scissors and cut at least 70 percent of my nerves to shreds. How hard is it to observe proper subway protocol? There are signs plastered all over each train, AND the conductors remind us to step all the way into the train every five minutes!
Flighty as it sounds, I’m grateful for that moment. Stay with me a moment, because at the risk of sounding too much like a New Age hipster, I realized something paramount to my life as a New Yorker: everybody in this city is just like me!
And who gets on a person’s nerves more than themselves?
It is often said that “we are our own worst critics,” or that what we dislike about others is merely a reflection about what we don’t like about ourselves, and blah, blah, blah. I suppose I shouldn’t take it too lightly. After all, I’m certainly guilty of being irritating on the subway at times… and in public spaces in general. It’s hard not to be on an island where space is limited and personalities are famously abrasive.
One instance that immediately comes to mind happened a few months ago on a rainy winter morning. I planted myself on a South Ferry – bound 1 train, and as much as I dislike riding local, I was just glad to no longer be exposed to the dreariness of outside.
Manhattan winds always seem to tear apart my umbrellas, so I finally put in the extra money to buy one that was larger and sturdy—even if they are a pain to carry around. There I was, sandwiched between two strangers (a novelty, I know!) and an almost unwieldy umbrella sticking out of the purse on my lap.
The man standing in front of my whirled around with a panicked look on his face. I in turn, became anxious as I waited to see what was wrong. Then I saw the embarrassing truth: the handle of my obnoxiously long umbrella was stabbing him square in the seat of his pants.
“Oh my goodness, I am so sorry!” I pulled my purse in closer to my body as quickly as I could and prepared myself to receive a punishing string of obscenities as payment for being so careless.
To my surprise, the expression on his face softened into a smile.
“It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”
I let out a deep sigh of relief. Which brings me back to the Uptown A.
The man I initially described was probably like me— hardworking and just leaving his job; utterly exhausted. While it’s certainly true that nobody is harder on ourselves than we are, I want to put a positive spin on it, because the reverse of my earlier statement is also true. The same way a person may get on my nerves because there is a very real possibility I may possess the same undesirable trait, seeing the good in others tells me more about my lovely qualities.
Our views into others are simply reflections of what is deep within ourselves.
That is how I will strive to view others the next time somebody cuts me off, pushes me without apology, or refuses to let me through in a packed subway station. After all, if a complete stranger could forgive me for giving him an unwelcome rectal exam, I can certainly exercise patience with everyone else.