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My Encounter with a “Human of New York”

Sometimes the most mundane disappointments carry the greatest reminders. Being mundane, they humble us most.
 
As Fr. Mick McCarthy beautifully writes, the best way to get to know a city is on foot. But a few weeks ago, my priority was not to get to know New York City. My evening plans were located too far downtown to get there in time by walking, yet it was too beautiful of a summer afternoon to be underground in the subway system. A taxi would be expensive and too slow with traffic. In short, biking seemed to be my best option, but all the CitiBikes in my vicinity were already checked out. I decided to walk down an avenue with many docking stations, with the hope that I would encounter someone returning a bike. I briskly passed the first station, with all 56 docks empty. The clock was ticking.

A CitiBike station in New York

A CitiBike station in New York

 

Then out of the corner of my eye, I spotted her: a biker angled toward the next block’s docking station, half-sitting, half-standing while she waited at the red light. Anticipating that she was en route to return her bicycle, I started to sprint toward that station. By the time she arrived at the dock, I would be there to greet her.

Fueled by the adrenaline of literally running toward my goal, I jumped over sidewalk debris and maneuvered around camera-wielding tourists, when suddenly, I noticed that I was not alone in the race. Someone else was also sprinting toward the station, from the other side of the street. I am sure that this man also saw me as we ran toward each other, with the docking station in the middle. The race was on: who would get there first?

Just as the biker was gliding into the station, my opponent and I also bounded into the “end zone.” He beat me by two steps. He rested his hand on the dock and kept it there, as if to claim his first-place prize. Rationally I knew that I could find a bicycle at another station, but in the moment I was immediately disappointed. Only humor could provide relief: clearly, I thought, I need to ramp up my sprint training at the gym.

I looked on bitterly as my foe waited for the woman to gather her belongings from the bicycle’s basket. He made small talk with her, asking how the bike rode and how her experience was today. He had raced me without scruples, and now he was exchanging pleasantries.

Speaking with this woman, my competitor became another Human of New York: no longer the archrival racing me to the coveted bike upon which all glory and honor (and transportation) depended, but someone who has a unique story and his own important reason to get somewhere that afternoon.

I emphasize the importance of being able to shift one’s perspective, precisely in high-speed moments, moments where flashes of intense emotion might overcome you, regardless of your rational analysis

In my last post, I emphasized the beauty of embracing moments of serendipity, which often means slowing down to be able to observe with keenness. This time, I emphasize the importance of being able to shift one’s perspective, precisely in high-speed moments, moments where flashes of intense emotion might overcome you, regardless of your rational analysis. Perhaps you have experienced this driving on the road, or waiting in line for coffee.

The brief exchange after I lost the competition to the bicycle reminded me of the humanity of my competitor, but of course, each of us is always, so to speak, a Human of New York.

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Compassion, Personal Growth, Illuminate

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