On Saturday, after lunch at a Thai restaurant in Chelsea with two friends and new Parabola comrades, I found a wallet on a train platform in Grand Central Station. Lunch had been festive and the conversation deep, just right for Bright Week or Renewal Week, the week after Eastern Orthodox Easter, according to one friend, who was still jet-lagged from an Easter trip to St. Petersburg. I walked back to Grand Central after lunch, indulging in one of the great pleasures of t New York— public solitude. The train was to be more of the same, feasting on the passing scene yet being alone, resting and reflecting. And now this—for some reason I was the only one on the crowded platform who noticed the wallet. Settled in my seat, I checked the driver’s license and found it belonged to a young man, just 20 years old. He was carrying a bank card that I guessed belonged to his mother, and a fair amount of cash. Suddenly, I realized how bereft he must be feeling just then– I’ve had my wallet stolen several times. Bleak scenes—and scenes of kindness I had received when I was in that situation—flashed before my eyes. My heart lifted because I knew I was about to lift that young man out of a very bleak place.
I showed the driver’s license and the wallet to the conductor. I told him I thought the kid was sitting a car or two back. He is probably looking very bereft and scared, I told him. And we can turn that around. Awhile later, the conductor came back with a big smile on his face. He found the kid sitting one car back and gave his wallet back. “He was soooooo happy,” said the conductor, beaming. “ So were all the people around him who knew all about it.” This was one of those marvelous moments in New York—and I’ve had several on trains—when people go from being alone to together, from solitude to community. The next time the conductor came by he was humming. Both of us, the young man, and the people around us were lifted up out of our isolation and infused with a special kind of enthusiasm, as if we had been invited by the universe to take part in a mission.
The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek root entheos, “having the god within.” There are moments when we feel we are flowing along with life—when we become agents of life forces rather than forcing things on our own behalf. I loved functioning this way—helping the universe. At lunch and walking back to Grand Central, I had been thinking about Parabola’s upcoming issue, “Alone and Together.” And now the universe had given me an example of what it is like to be part of a greater wholeness—the conductor, the young man, his supporters, and I—all of us part of a seamless whole, an exchange that involved the intricate turning of many wheels, of karma.
Do you ever wonder what your purpose and your passion is? On Saturday, I saw that our purpose can change moment by moment—that it is a matter of noticing and allowing rather than a great act of will. When I was a little girl, I loved pretending to be a secret agent. On Saturday, the universe gave me a chance to be a secret agent of larger forces. It handed me a wallet and all I had to do was hand it on. A small deed, but for a moment I glimpsed what was really being accomplished, as effortless as breathing. How expansive and bright it felt to be part of the giving back of the wallet—as if I was joining the flow of life. How constricted and dark it would have felt to hold on to it, as if I was freezing life, binding myself, casting myself into darkness (and I believe Dante portrays Satan that way, frozen in ice, unable to move).
I decided that remaining anonymous was too isolated, too full of self conscious modesty—I wanted more of this adventure. Almost at my stop, I walked back one car and introduced myself to Robert (that was the young man’s name). As he thanked me, I noticed there was a look that took years of conditioning off his face. I could see the child in him. “You made his day,” said the lady sitting next to him. He made mine. Just before I stepped off the car, I turned around. Robert smiled and waved–and the lady next to him and a few others who had witnessed the unfolding story of the wallet smiled and waved. But it was as if the whole car lit up, taking in all those who were oblivious, isolated, dreaming. We really are all alone in this—wishing and striving to find our purpose–and together. A wise man once told me to just try to see what is needed in any given moment—that this can be a light to guide you on your way.
Parabola’s “Alone and Together” is coming soon!