Before today, the last time I remembered tearing up on the train was when I witnessed a blind man standing across from me using his senses to navigate his surroundings. He had effortlessly folded away his walking stick, and instead seemed to sink into the bustle of the train car. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him when he turned his head, listened, seemingly felt the wafts of air, and perceptibly moved out of the way as people boarded and exited the train.
I was amazed by his bravery, and frightened at the same time; if you were blind, would you navigate the streets of Brooklyn without aid? What I realized was that when you look at or interact with strangers, not only do you see all that they are, but you also see everything you are (and aren’t). My tears were for him, but they were also for me.
Fast forward to today.
I was sitting on the three train, listening to Beverly Daniel Tatum talk about her book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria. I wanted to refresh my memory on key elements for this office book club I had joined. Super deep in thought, I didn’t see this man trying to get my attention. I looked at him, and immediately thought he was asking me if the man sitting next to me was making me uncomfortable. Because he was. No one briefed this guy on the norm that if there is an empty seat next to you, you slide into it to allow for an empty seat between you and the person who once sat next to you. One more movement and he would have touched my thigh.
Unfortunately, the man wasn’t addressing how uncomfortable I was. When I realized this, my headphones came off, and I zoned in on his face.
“How is your dad?”
I blinked at him, confused. My heart began to race. Who is this man? It was strange. Talking to someone who knew my dad, but was unaware of what happened.
“Remember me? From Troy? How is your dad?” he said, trying to jog my memory.
I knew who he was now. The train slowed to a stop.
“He passed away years ago,” I said. I could feel my eyes starting to dampen.
The doors opened. He stood there, mouth agape. I smiled as if to signal that I was ok. It was fine.
“I’m so sorry. Take care.” Then he was gone.