I had two incidents occur to me this week that were interesting. They occurred exactly a night apart from each other, at an identical location. On Monday night, last Monday, I did an open mic. Even though I’m battling a nasty allergy cold, it was fun. I had a couple of nice conversations, performed a song pretty well, and generally had a superb time. I also took down some quotes, planning to write about the night, which I have not done yet but am planning on doing.
Anyhow, I end up back at Penn Station, about to walk down the escalator to jump on the train. A black gentlemen taps on my shoulder. He’s an older guy. I can’t really tell whether he’s one of the homeless people who hangs around by the escalator, or if he’s a busy man about to hail a cab. I didn’t take a close look at him.
He’s holding two of my notebooks in his hand. Two of my sheet music books. The work of almost two years are in those books. He said, ‘You dropped your sheet music,’ and handed the books back to me. They had fallen out of my guitar bag. I had not noticed. Without this act of kindness, I would have been full of regret over losing the chord changes for forty to fifty original songs, along with other compositions by well-known musicians I use for practice. I also wouldn’t have known where I lost the books. I naturally would have wondered whether they had been lost at the bar. So I may have even needed to make a return trip, to check out their lost and found. It would have been quite an inconvenience. It would have sucked. And this dude, who I didn’t even survey long enough to tell whether he was a businessman or homeless, spared me from that disappointing fate. I got on the train. My appreciation for this kind act last maybe two or three minutes, before my mind wandered elsewhere. Someone had done me a great service, and I accepted it, said ‘thank you,’ and moved on.
The next night, I was in the city again to cover a literary reading in the village. This event I was able to write about, and I ended up quite happy with the article actually, even though I started writing it way too late that night, finishing it in the early morning. There was a reason for this. I could not stop thinking about an incident that occurred after the reading, coincidentally, right near the escalator. This time a crowd of people pretty much forced me to walk around a Hispanic gentlemen who was standing near a stationary stand. While I was going down the escalator, I heard a voice say, ‘Hey, hey,’ and I look up, and I see this Hispanic gentlemen, calling after me from the top of the escalator. He’s oddly dressed, to my eye, wearing a leather jacket with steel studs. He looks like someone dropped out of nineteen eighty-six, an older and more openly violent Manhattan. ‘Who gave you permission?’ He asked this question, and was obviously insulted, judging by the tone. There’s a possibility he comes from an environment where someone walking behind your person could be construed as a threat. It’s also possible he was standing so close to the stationary stand as to avoid that specific circumstance occurring. I didn’t answer him. I just stared. The answer was, of course, ‘No, I couldn’t walk in front of you. It was crowded, there was a large enough space between you and the stand that we didn’t even touch, this is Penn Station, people are in a rush, so get over it.’
You see, that is a rational response. But if there’s one thing you recognize, even if you have just a couple of incidents in life dealing with potentially violent people seeking to escalate a situation, it’s that rationality means absolutely nothing to them. Any noise produced from their potential victim’s mouth is immediately seen as justification, for whatever bad intentions they may have. It may be simple menacing, or something worse. The best thing to do, when dealing with individuals such as these, is to walk away. And if you need to apologize, even though you don’t mean it, as I had to, after he said, ‘I’ll knock you out,’ then you do it. It’s easy to assume the posture of a scared person when you are scared, or at least in shock. I have travelled to Manhattan probably 95 to 100 times in my life. I haven’t been bothered very much. This was the first time I actually felt like I may be in danger. I continued rolling down the escalator. I took another look back at him, as I continued down, which was not very smart, but didn’t lead to anything else happening.
I boarded my train in short order, and proceeded to obsess over this incident for two or three hours. This guy had probably forgotten about me the second I left his eyesight. I wondered what would have happened had I challenged him. I’ve been around people seeking violence before, unfortunately. They have these horrifying, beady eyes, in the heat of anger. Like a fish. There’s an emptiness that tears through your spirit, alerts your senses that life itself could resemble that beady hollowness, should an opportunity to fight arise. This leather jacket guy, his eyes were not quite that empty. Or maybe it was hard for me to see, going down the escalator. Either way, to sink to a level low enough to allow for confrontation would have been inexcusable. If you have assumed the role of responsible adult in a situation, even if by default, you act like it. A few incidents in my life have taught me well. There was something inside guiding me to shut up, shaping my posture. Positive lessons can arise from negative experiences. That alone proves the worth of life. And the worth of life means more than answering an irrational challenge. Walk away.
Notice. How much more did I think about this one sided verbal altercation, compared with the act of kindness? I am becoming more consciously aware of my choices, lately. When you are running from problems, instead of confronting them, options feel limited. Yeah, a life on the lamb, getting drunk off artwork and alcohol, baseball games and women seen as salvation…. In a vacuum, there’s beauty in artwork, baseball games, and even alcohol, depending on whom you ask. A girl can make a huge difference in your life. But when you are running toward these things as sanctuary, instead of viewing them as accessories to a happy existence, that’s where delusion has taken over. And people can work past initial delusion. But it’s not always necessary. And life is easier without it.
Through my very limited experience meditating, I’m also finding myself trying to forgive my mind more: instead of rushing to judge, I understand. I understand why the threat of violence would leave more of an imprint than an act of kindness. Conditioning must be acknowledged before it is transformed.
Walking away could be a huge help emotionally, too. Walk away from petty judgments. Walk away from judging everything and everyone. The hilarious thing is, if you actually stop and exit the rollercoaster cart, you find that your judgments often make yourself upset. You are the one experiencing a negative emotion, after all, especially if you are silently assessing your environment in terms of ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy.’ I, myself, have wasted countless hours getting upset about entertainment issues that have absolutely nothing to do with me. I buy a magazine. Get angry about the content of the magazine. A simple change of mind would allow me to see that I bought the magazine for a reason: to make myself happy, at least temporarily. The negative trip feels so important, so grandiose, because it assumes the characteristics of assertiveness perhaps lacking in other aspects of life. It feels good making an all-consuming judgment about an entertainer, never met. It feels solid. So different from debating whether it was right to walk away from the potentially violent stranger… oh yeah… thinking about a brawl… thinking about the potential consequences… instead of letting go. Because to tell you the honest truth, as a man, it doesn’t feel good when you avoid a fight. You don’t feel like this benevolent beam of light. You feel bad. You feel vulnerable. And you want to lash out. You forget yesterday’s kindness.
Letting go is important. That’s the lesson.