“What a day”, I thought as I was remembering an inspiring event I just attended. Passion and purpose was the theme. The energy in the room was palpable. Hours seemed like seconds as I was absorbing the wisdom from the incredible women in the room. Nearly no stone was left unturned in discussing vital, yet often overlooked topics. I was holding on to the railing of the subway car, happily thinking of the fun fact that this wonderful event happened on my “college day”. A day of the week when I can truly exercise the God-given right of being happy and pursuing my passion. I was anxious because I was running slightly late for class. Being the sign of Virgo requires me to be prompt and gives me a major heartburn when circumstances interfere. Yet, I was also excited to once again rejoin my fellow art history classmates and immerse myself in my passion.
But what about my purpose? Is it connected somehow to my passion? Does anyone care? Should I? My train of thought was interrupted by a guy with a bold shiny head who made loud sighing sounds every time the train slowed down. It was nearly my stop and I had to pay close attention. I've been known to miss it a few times and had to come back, which made me even more late and agitated. Mainly because time “wasted” on the commute was eating into my time of educational art history bliss.
Unable to ignore my buzzing impatient blackberry, I took it out of my pocket. I could actually feel my blood pressure rising with every "reply to all" email I read! Who invented these things again and why isn't he (or she) getting two consecutive life sentences for it? I know it’s not good to respond to emails while standing, walking, and chewing or doing any other activity that requires your brain, eyes and mouth coordination. One day I actually swallowed a chewing gum, hit "send" on the message I didn’t mean to send out yet, missed my stop and got a bruise from the subway car doors hitting me painfully in the arms. And it all happened at the same time! This is the mode I was in as I was racing downstairs, multi-tasking on my blackberry, making hissing sounds and not paying any attention to my surroundings.
As I got to the bottom of the stairs I almost tripped over someone (or someones) crouching on the ground. Two men were trying to help an elderly woman get up and I immediately "sprang into action". Pulling out my phone I asked the woman if she was OK. “I am dialing 911 right now" I said. With her blue piercing eyes she looked up at me and in a barely audible shaky voice said "please don't". I immediately felt something detach from me, lifted gently in the air and began to float towards her. It was something you could call empathy or compassion. I often feel it as something tangible. Like a light cashmere blanket that you take off your shoulders and put on someone else, who needs it more.
The bravado, the fearlessness, the "I am the queen of the world moment" feeling totally dissipated. I was completely consumed by this tiny, slightly hunched over, lady with a cane and a red coat. In just seconds, I felt totally responsible for her well-being. She represented my ill mom, my recently deceased grandmother and every little old lady I’ve ever encountered and yet to encounter.
It was dark. The two men were still at her side, but no longer supporting her. She seemed so scared and alone, so I said "Please take my hand. May I help you walk home?" At first she was momentarily cautious, kind of assessing my danger level, but then she kind of lit up, nodded, and still hesitating said "I don't want to impose on you". “It’ll be my honor. What’s your name? I am Rina. I am a student in Brooklyn College” I said.
And so we walked. It was just a few blocks, but we were taking small careful steps. She kept repeating her thanks. I kept asking her ridiculous questions and intermittently making empty statements, which at the moment seemed encouraging and even necessary. Something to the tune of “does your face hurt? It doesn’t look bad at all. What about your wrist? Aha, great, you can move your fingers. It means they are not broken.” We’d take a few steps and then stop for a moment. Finally, after struggling with the stairs in the foyer of her building, we entered her apartment. It was large and had a peculiar smell. It smelled of loneliness and dust.
Her name was Cynthia, I finally learned.
“And who is this?” I said as a beautiful black cat jumped on my lap.
“This is my cat.” said Cynthia smiling.
“What’s her name?”
I brought Cynthia a glass of water and put her cane near an armoire. Wow, I thought to myself, if you live with a black cat named Angel, NOTHING bad should ever happen to you.
“Is there anyone I can call to let them know what happened?”
“No. There is no one”. It sounded like she’s answered this question many times before.
After a few minutes of examining her seemingly minor injuries, Cynthia agreed that it might be a good idea to call 911 just in case, which is what we did. Then we waited for them to arrive. She apologized for the mess and we laughed about how if she hadn’t fallen we wouldn’t have met.
When the AMT arrived, I opened the door for them, explained who I was (and wasn’t). “Cynthia, I’ll be calling you tomorrow to check on you. Ok? And you call me too. Here is my cell phone. I always pick it up! Don’t hesitate for a moment. Who knows, you might just have gotten yourself a regular (usually hungry) visitor on her way to school!”
As I started walking towards the college campus again, I thought what a day, but now for a completely different reason… What if my purpose is not some idealized vision and what if it’s not static? I read somewhere recently "If you are breathing, you have a purpose.” What if my purpose changes moment to moment as life teaches me another important lesson? What if my purpose that day was to be on a slow moving train, to be late for school, to be yanked out of my cloud of self importance, so that I could help Cynthia walk home and hold her hand? Time suspended, I entered her reality as she entered mine, and we wrapped each other up in a warm cashmere blanket called compassion. That’s one great purpose for the day, if you ask me…