“Don’t turn your face away.
Once you’ve seen, you can no longer act like you don’t know.
Open your eyes to the truth. It’s all around you.
Don’t deny what the eyes to your soul have revealed to you.
Now that you know, you cannot feign ignorance.
Now that you’re aware of the problem, you cannot pretend you don’t care.
To be concerned is to be human.
To act is to care.”
Vashti Quiroz-Vega, writer
New York City subway often offers me incredible insights into the human condition (not to mention a whole range of odors).
Just the other day, I saw a relatively young man, who got on the subway at the same stop as me. His appearance was unremarkable aside from a long cane. He was blind. This man got inside the car and stood not far from the entrance, I am guessing, to make sure he could more easily get off at his stop.
The train was delayed. One minute, three minutes, five minutes, ten minutes passed by. During all that that time more and more people got on.
The blind man was pushed and shoved, and at times berated for standing “in the way.” It was hard to watch. But the man just smiled and said “I am sorry” to the people who shoved him. A few times people asked the “crowd” if the train stops at the stop X or Y. And he answered those questions, looking directly ahead. And then others would ask if the train was delayed and how long it’s been “sitting at the station.” He answered those questions too, articulately, in a quiet and clear voice.
Eventually, it was time for me get off the train. As I was getting off, I said to this man, almost inaudibly: “I am sorry.” And he responded: “It’s alright.” And then the doors closed behind me. A heavy feeling landed in my heart.
“It's all a matter of paying attention, being awake in the present moment, and not expecting a huge payoff. The magic in this world seems to work in whispers and small kindnesses.”
Charles de Lint, writer
Since then, I just keep thinking - who was actually blind in this situation? The man who was physically blind? Or all of us around him who appeared to have been emotionally and spiritually blind?
I understand that those were not just some especially heartless people who all happened to be gathering in the R train at the Courtland street station. They were regular people, just like you and me, who had things on their minds, who were in a rush to get somewhere and likely annoyed at the MTA for a dirty, delayed service. But...
How blind are we to people around us? What suffering or joy are we not noticing accidentally or willingly? How oblivious are we to our fellow humans at home, at work, daily, hourly, for a lifetime? Why don’t we see what’s around us? Self-orientation? Self-preservation? Disinterest? Apathy? I don’t know.
But I do know this: I want to do better. I want to be better.
‘If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”
Leo Tolstoy, writer