Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Urban Moments, Namaste

As a habitual poeple watcher I love the urban life. I consider quite a few people a part of my life who barely know I exist. I see them, they don't see me. I walk a short two blocks from the 23rd St. subway exit to where I work on 21st St., along 7th Avenue most mornings about 8:00 a.m. I've written a sheaf of poems called "7th at 8:00" about characters I see often, including my favorite "The Taupe Man". He's usually there and probably doesn't actually see me. He would be very surprised that someone thinks as much about him as I do. He's a down-and-outter but he has a job of sorts at a deli, guarding the early morning roll delivery and sweeping the sidewalk when the deli owners arrive. A bunch of other down-and-outters don't have jobs but they live in the area and sit around fairly awake and alert early in the morning. Then by noon the brown bagged beer or wine has put them to sleep on the sidewalk -- on a grate in the winter. I recognize three, although there are others who come and go. A scruffy lot, rarely shaved, often in dirty clothes; but they seem to have a place for the night; a place to shower They don't stink as some vagrants do. To my surprise one of the regulars was more alert than usual this morning. He looked directly at me as I approached, I looked back, he nodded a sort of gentlemanly little nod and I smiled and he smiled back. I went on.

I've been reading Buddhist authors who recommend learning compassion for every other person by saying, "each person was once my mother." Sorry. that doesn't work for me. I can't buy reincarnation except on some extremely general basis in the sense that every rain drop has also been a part of the ocean, a part of the river, a part of the cloud. No. Our brief moment of recognition was more direct and less sentimental. Two people on the street, a brief greeting -- a moment of "namaste" if one cam put it that way. "The life force in me recognizes the life force in you." No judgments, just two humans smiling.

I shared a similar smile a couple of days ago in the subway. An Hispanic man is frequently on the downtown platform at morning rush hour sitting on a low stool playing a guitar and singing in Spanish. He is 50ish, he sings sincerely but not particularly well. His guitar case is in front of him open for donations of which there are few. He sings as if he enjoys singing and if it brings in a little money, good, but there's nothing begging about him. Once in a while when he is singing a song that makes me feel good I give drop something into his guitar case. Once in a while when he is between songs, he looks up at people walking along the platform and smiles a simple little smile. I remember seeing him, I suppose he doesn't remember me. No matter, not important.

A couple mornings ago when I reached the platform it was very crowded on the express side and not on the local side, indicating a local train had just left. The guitarist was playing "Que Sera Sera" and a great many people were singing along with him which is not usual at all. Perhaps there were tourists or students, I don't know but the platform sounded much happier than usual. The song was ending and the express was roaring in; too crowded for me to bother trying to get on. I pulled out a dollar bill and put it into the guitar case. He smiled up at me with the biggest smile, with amazingly white and beautiful teeth and said,"Gracias". I don't often get such a really wonderful smile. Namaste, Senor.

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