I was on the way to work the other day, preoccupied with global problems, like Donald Trump and the war in Syria. I’d just read a New Yorker article covering these topics and, not uncommonly for the newly enlightened, was energized by the urgent conviction that I must act to better the world. Immediately thereafter I was filled with the foreboding that I didn’t know how. And that even if I did, I probably didn’t have the courage to follow through.
I’d rolled the magazine up and packed it under my arm as I waited to change to the U9 line. The screen revealed I had a three-minute wait.
Enough time for a woman with a large dog and a leather jacked adorned with Tipp-Ex to engage me in conversation.
“Is this the right side for Hansaplatz?” she asked.
I paused to think (I shouldn’t have had to since this is my daily commute but remember, I was carrying the combined weight of the world’s problems as well as my New Yorker).
Then said: “Yes!” a little too brightly, hoping to make up for my hesitation.
“Good,” she said. “I was afraid of getting it in the wrong direction.”
“Oh, I do that all the time,” I said. (It’s true.)
“My friends will be wondering where I am!” she continued. “I spent all night partying in Tiergarten with the other punks.”
I nodded knowingly, hoping to convey mindfulness of alternative lifestyles.
It seemed to work because she kept talking.
“I turned 30 yesterday!” she said.
“You did?! Happy Birthday!” I blurted enthusiastically.
She combed her hand through a mass of hair in the center of her otherwise shaved head.
“Thanks!” she said. “Got my hair done too. Had to, for the occasion.”
“It looks great,” I said, and meant it.
“Check out my jacket,” she continued. “All my buddies signed it.”
She pointed to various names signed in Tipp-Ex. “That’s my best friend Nina .. and my buddy Timo!”
She was the kind of intoxicated we all aspire to: cheerful but not embarrassing, her non sequiturs redeemed by elegant syntax.
As I was nodding along, I couldn’t help but think: we’re almost the same age! And she lives in the park, with her huge dog and all her lovely punk friends, enjoying life instead of obsessing over her failure to make a meaningful impact. And then, because such things are in my nature, I felt inadequate in the presence of such hard-won resilience.
As the train came, she pulled out a bottle of liquor from the inside of her jacket pocket and waved it in the air.
“Breakfast!” she said happily, before ushering her hound on board.
The counterpoise to world problems is startling. I can imagine the weight of your New Yorker dipping to zero. Thanks for the breakfast!
Hi Umashankar! Thanks for stopping by! The weight DID drop – it was just the kind of perspective I needed. I think the exchange was especially poignant because this woman was my age.. an lived by such a different set of expectations.. At the end of the day though, she seemed perfectly happy and I was privileged to be able to learn something from her! Glad to have accompanied your breakfast 🙂
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