I just got off the subway after a topsy turvy day on Roosevelt Island with the boys and our small group of buddies.
It also happened to be the hottest day of “summer” on this second day of September, the day after Labor Day.
I learned that I should follow my gut about certain excursions with the kids, like the Rockettes Christmas show that Micah wasn’t ready for, a Central Park picnic I didn’t take a stroller to, the 12 hour day in Manhattan, and several others in the Kim Outings Hall of Fame.
Despite a nagging feeling to pass on this group excursion, I went because I wanted to catch our buddies before our respective first days of school. I couldn’t shake this feeling that it was going to be a tough, raisin-in-the-sun type of long day with unexpected stressors.
Oh, and it was going to be a humid 92 degrees out, but I wanted to seem down!
The subway elevator that went eastbound from Roosevelt Island was unexpectedly broken on our way back home, after tram rides, playground, my failed attempts to feed them, sprinkler fun, rest stops, sunscreen applications, and bathroom breaks. And stroller protests. And my eye abrasion/infection that showed up out of nowhere.
Did I mention 92 degrees?
Our other little buddies went home earlier and didn’t need the elevator because they either didn’t have a stroller or had a Daddy to carry down their Strollerus Prime.
My friend and I were forced to take the only working elevator down to catch a train in the OPPOSITE direction, westbound into Manhattan, farther from home, to get to another elevator subway stop in Manhattan that would eventually take us in the right direction.
Of course, by then, it turned out to be rush hour so we were lucky to even be able to fit our huge doublestrollers onto the subway at all.
As I was shoving my butt into a seated passenger’s face in order to fix Micah’s stroller seat, the young man asked, “Would you like to sit down so you can fix his seat?” I thanked him profusely and we got to chatting, while my friend was crammed in on the other side of the subway car.
He ended up telling me his story. I love stories.
He is a 21 year-old Puerto Rican from East New York and he just got released from his second prison term. We chatted about our respective days, first about how we were experiencing different types of exhaustion, then onto racial dynamics and implications (one of my favorite topics), his time in prison, NYC, God, and more.
I noticed that my stop was coming up so I said, “I’m totally gonna have to interrupt you to ask you a question as a mama. When you look back at your life, what do you think could have helped you stay up? What could have helped you from going down this particular path? I have to ask because I’m the mama of these two young men konked out in the stroller and I gotta do right by them.”
I confess I was fishing for an affirmation in the form of, “If only my mama had been a stay-at-home mom until I was at least five years old, taking me to museums and playgrounds all over NYC, including the Roosevelt Island tram on a hot day like today.”
Idle time. He had gotten into trouble because he lived in a bad neighborhood and was bored after school let out. He didn’t have an afterschool center where he could have discovered creative outlets for his restless energy.
This conversation with a perfect stranger on the subway is still percolating. I had already been thinking a lot about the different trajectories our lives take.
Our head pastor is also Puerto Rican and from East New York. Rich has mad Brooklyn pride, always trying to hoot and holler, “I’m from BROOKLYN, y’all” any chance he gets when he preaches. In fact, HE GREW UP ON THE SAME BLOCK as the young man I met on the subway!
Somehow, Rich was able to stay out of trouble and today, he is a pastor of a deeply impactful church in Elmhurst, Queens.
Though Rich is a bright dude, it wasn’t that he was simply “better” or smarter than the Subway Guy.
Sure, one can argue that we all have to take personal responsibility for our choices but it isn’t so black and white. The factors that lead to the different paths our lives take include different influences, decisions or series of decisions, missteps, a case of wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time, serendipitous good fortune, and most of all, timing.
Any one of these things can change the entire arc of our lives.
Ultimately, he was the only one who could take responsibility for certain choices that he made. However, different factors were at play to shape the mind of a young boy in the projects, leading up to his being incarcerated at the age of 16, then again at age 19.
I have always been fascinated by how so many different “ingredients” make up our lives and trajectory they take.
The family we are born into. The class we’re born into. The country we’re born into. The person we end up marrying. Having children. If those children have special needs or become ill. Just to name a few.
Sometimes, I wonder, what if I hadn’t met and fallen for this boy from CT/NY? What if Kevin hadn’t met this crazy girl from Cali? What if neither one of us had ever gone to law school? (Then we wouldn’t have such student loans! But I digress…)
And also about the future, “What is our family’s vision? Is our next step only to move into a bigger, nicer space and live the picket fence dream or should we do something radical and countercultural?”
Though I often wonder, “How did they get here?” about others, like the young man on the subway and millionaires, the pressing question I am grappling with these days is, “What is next, Lord? What am I called to do? Who am I called to be?”
But right now, I am called to join my family for dinner.
What a nice, contemplative piece!
What a pleasure it is to share a slice of life with a perfect stranger. I’m so glad for both you and Subway Guy that you had that interaction. Glad you made it back home ok after all that craziness too!