“Teacher! Teacher! Thank You!”: A Subway Platform Blessing
Saturday, as I descended into the steamy W 4th Street station to catch the C-train to Central Park, I was a grumpy mess. Existential shakiness compounded by a heat dome and humidity. And having to rush. I’m not good at rushing in the morning.
I walked to the uptown end of the platform, knowing just where to stand to get into the exact car from which to exit at the precise staircase to emerge on to the street just where I needed to be to enter the Park. The sign of a real New Yorker…positioning yourself on the train for a quick exit. (That, and knowing how to get cross town on the subway. Sometimes, in the big city, it is these small things that count.)
As I looked around at all the many weekend change-of-service signs and the flashing delay warnings on the digital kiosk, wondering if my problem would not be so much position in space as in time, a woman walked toward me, smiling. She looked vaguely familiar.
She said, “I know you”
I said, “I know you too.” But I couldn’t place her. Chinese, I thought. 40ish. In a tee shirt with Egyptian figures on it, capri pants and sunhat . And that smile.
“English,” she said “You teach English. Washington Heights. Thank you. Thank you!”
“Yes!” that’s where I knew her from. It was odd, though. Most of my students were Dominicans, with a trio of Russian doctors one year just to shake things up a bit. And once a young woman from China who’d told the story of her grandmother’s bound feet…much to the shock of the Dominicans. But this was not that woman And all that had been years ago. Years.
“English. You help us so much. How is N.Y.U.?”
Whoa! “Good, “ I said. I am still teaching there.”
“Central Park,” she said. “You tell stories. We have lots of fun.”
Double whoa! I vaguely recall that one year, a group of my students from Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation came to hear me tell stories in Central Park. She remembered. It had been at least 10 years.
We chatted. She was so excited to see me. I was excited to see her.
“Thank you, thank you,” she said again as the C roared into the station. Then, as I turned to enter it, “Bless you,” she called out.
“And you. Thank you and bless you,” I said and stepped into the car.
No more existential shakiness. And why be grumpy? I was on my way to see two of my friends tell stories at the statue of Hans Christian Andersen –where I would be performing the following Saturday…my 24th year in the Andersen storytelling series. And a lovely woman spotted me waiting in my chosen place on the platform for what I had thought would be the perfect car to make a quick exit. Instead, that precise place put me in the path of an angel who reminded me of who I am and who gave me a gorgeous blessing. Great way to start a Saturday.