“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies- God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
When I was 19, I put all my earthly possessions into two large suitcases, a backpack, and a guitar case and made a move from NYC back to my hometown of Chicago. All of these bags could have fit easily into the trunk of a sensible midsize sedan. Heck, include the backseat for storage and a Prius would have gotten the job done. At the time though, cash was so short that even a taxi ride was an unobtainable luxury. I locked my apartment just north of the city for the last time, grabbed all my things and began the mile long walk to the commuter train. I don’t know what I would have done if it were raining.
My backpack was over fifty pounds, and when I’d tell my mom this story later, it was over a hundred pounds because we all want to be extra sympathetic characters to our mothers. My two suitcases dragged behind me. Their tiny wheels, designed for smooth airport floors, struggled with the uneven concrete. If my entire load were just two bags and a backpack, I wouldn’t have had much of an issue, but I just had to keep that guitar I never played. I’d stop every block or so to switch hands, often trying to carry the guitar with just my thumb, the other fingers devoted to rolling a suitcase.
My pride mostly intact, I made it to the train station. My mile-long haul had taken longer than expected and I missed my intended train, waited for the next for 30 minutes, and cruised right into midtown Manhattan. All that was left was to take the subway over to Penn Station for the 16 hour train to Chicago.
It’s a quick subway trip from Grand Central to Penn Station, albeit with a transfer. Of course that day, there were track issues on both the 7 and the S between Grand Central and Times Square. With the subway closed and a taxi being financially out of reach, I had no choice but to make the milelong trek by foot.
No big deal. I had just done a mile. Having missed my first train, I needed to hustle my buns.
Then the rain began. By the time I walked by the Banana Republic advertising its new line of yacht wear just outside Grand Central, the handle of one of my suitcases had ripped straight out. I now had to awkwardly bend over to get low enough to still use the wheels. Hunched, wet, and huffing it down 42nd st past Bryant Park, my second suitcase popped a wheel clean offf. The rain picked up. The normal midtown rush ducked into coffeeshops to avoid the deluge.
Soaked through, I was now just dragging both suitcases and the thought of missing this train became real. I picked up my pace, with the vision of all my clothes spilling onto the wet pavement in Times Square driving me on. My grip was failing. I stopped, raindrops pelting my head, and debated just abandoning everything I owned right there on the street.
A car pulled up next to me. “You headed to Penn Station?”
“Need a ride?” the driver asked. “I’m on my way to pick up my daughter there.”
“It’s like five minutes away. Just get in.”
I tossed my stuff in the trunk, and sure enough, five minutes later, we were at the station. I got the backseat of his car all wet, apologized. “It’ll dry,” he said. “Have a safe trip.”
That was my last memory of my first year in New York. For him, that five minute drive was nothing. For me, it was forever life-changing. NYC is a place that tries to act tough but is really just a big softy once you get to know it. Because of this one guy, to me, one of the hardest cities on earth now has a gentleness to it.
It’s these small moments of grace, these heroic acts of kindness, that are going to get us through this eerie time. Whether it’s to your spouse, your kids, your quarantine buddy, the essential workers at grocery stores and delivering packages, healthcare workers, or just a down and out college kid in the rain trying to get home to his mama across the country, we all have chances each day to be kind. The weeks ahead are going to be the type the poets write about. As we navigate this uncertain future, each day, make someone a recipient of kindness.