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A smidgen of hope, New York City-style…

November 5th, 2016 by Stephen Bauman

One thing seems certain: our distressing political moment will not end Tuesday night. I’m thinking the election results will only augur the true beginning, regardless of which candidate wins. That’s what I was cogitating when Melissa and I descended the stairs to the 4 train at 59th Street on our way to visit “the kids” in Brooklyn.

The platform was thick with riders. A garbled message came over the speakers about “delays…track fire…smoke…express transitioning to local below…” Shifting into lemming mode we took our place in the pack and waited. Eventually, a 4 train slowly crept into the station. The doors opened. A crush disembarked. Another crush boarded; we were among them.

Oh, New Yorkers, you know how this is, how there is no such thing as personal space in this constricted, claustrophobic, rush hour setting, how you might as well get comfortable with the reality that few body parts are immune from contact with body parts belonging to someone else. I grabbed the ceiling bar as the most comfortable stabilizing option. Melissa grimaced as the young woman standing between us scrounged for her cell phone in a manner that could have been mistaken for something else had Melissa been in a different setting. But as for all of this, the train was absolutely silent.  SILENT.

We hung out in that state for a long while. Eventually, the train moved, only to stop a short distance into the tunnel.  An announcement: “crackle, crackle…debris being removed…track…soon…fire department…14th Street…sorry for…” Train moved again, stopped again. And so on.

Finally, Grand Central. The platform could not have held another person. A crush whooshed out, another whooshed in. But again, silence. Composure.

In this manner, we made our way the next few stops, all the way to Bowling Green! Last stop in Manhattan. But then, another announcement, this one very clear: “I hate to have to tell you this, but due to a medical emergency this will be the last stop of this train. Like I said, I’m really sorry, I know you don’t want to hear this, but you must get off this train.  It will not be going to Brooklyn.”

To an individual, the lemmings took it in stride. But they were confused since there was now no way to get to Brooklyn from this station. Melissa and I headed to the northbound side and back to Fulton Street where a connector took us to the 2 train and under the river to our destination. One of those spontaneous New York adventures.

But here’s the thing that occurred to me as we were successfully situated: with the crushing mass of humanity in all of its astonishing New York City diversity—every imaginable race and ethnicity, walk of life, religious perspective, socio-economic standing, age, and no doubt every political persuasion—I did not witness a single individual acting out. Not one. Everyone kept their cool. Everyone listened to their better angels.

I know this is no big incident, but given our current cultural, political moment, it felt like a window on hope was cracked open a bit, that, by God, we didn’t have to succumb to our lesser selves when the common good was at stake. We could, all of us, band together for the sake of the best outcome possible under the circumstances. And imagine, in the notorious New York City subway system!

I tell you, I had a spring in my step when I emerged on Eastern Parkway in that far borough…

Stephen Bauman

Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Bauman is the Senior Minister at Christ Church.