Tears crowd the corner of my eyes as I practice saying it in my head. “I love you,” I want to tell him. I want to sit right next to him, hold his hand, and tell him that I love him.
The train lurches forward, I practically lose my balance.
This is 175th street.
The doors sweep open. People push in. People push out.
Stand clear of the closing doors please.
It took a mere five seconds for him to get up and push out of the crowded train, leaving me standing by myself. I didn’t get to tell him that I love him.
Most of you won’t be phased by the fact that this man was a complete stranger to me, Hands Caked with Filth, Face Hardened by Life. I knew almost instantly that he would return home and probably no one would ask him about his day. Was it hard? Was it long? Why ask the obvious?
And here I am, 5’4 and 120 pounds, attempting to love the whole wide world on a New York City 4 train.
The last time I tried to love strangers was in traffic court, before moving to New York City. I tried my hardest to love the Rude People deeply. The Dirty People instantly. The Arrogant People fully. While others were biting their nails over the ticket they would not get out of paying, I was nervous about the fact that it is so very hard to love all of your neighbors. All seven billion or so of your neighbors.
I wish so furiously that Mother Teresa was still doing her thing in India. I want to ask her: How did you do it Mama T? How did you manage to keep a broken world still spinning off of your love? How did you love the lepers and the sick people?
Well I cannot meet Mother Teresa. But I did meet Lindsay. One of my roommates here, exotic and Californian. And Lindsay has introduced me to a beautiful five-letter word. Her favorite word. And it is really something wonderful to not be told about a word, but to be shown it.
“Agape means that we love a person for what they are. Every person has an infinite mystery within themselves. Agape means that we never confine the person to what we know of them. To love anyone is to hope in them always.”
I officially want to go on a picnic with the person who wrote these words. We would have a great time, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and spreading agape all over one another. And then we would invite the homeless man from the corner to come have some hot chocolate and agape with us, as well.
In all seriousness, Agape is a great concept but terribly hard to practice. We are human beings, it is our innate want and desire to put each other into boxes and duct tape those boxes up with all sorts of labels.
Can we just please stop taping for a day? Take people out of their boxes and allow them to run around? It will probably be very similar to the Cat and the Hat, when Thing 1 and Thing 2 break out their box. But it might be fun. We would learn more about one another. Thing 1 & Thing 2: Agape Pros.
Some may say that giving my year to a volunteer program, splitting my days between the United Nations and my duties as a substitute preschool teacher, is enough. I say, “This is just the beginning to the ways in which I want to rattle this world.”
So I put my agape on everything these days. Rest assured, I put my agape on everything.
(I know this is not the proper way to use the word, I just adore misusing words sometimes because it sounds prettier. More writer-ish)
I wish all of you could pack up your day bags and take a field trip to my apartment, situated nicely above an immigration center and attached to a church. But be warned: I would not take you into Manhattan. My stipend is $25 a week. We cannot afford much. But a lack of money makes you realize: we never really needed money to do the work that we came here to do anyway. So you would come, and we would sit on the “stoop” and probably eat animal crackers and share stories. And people would come right up and talk to us. The Dominicans from across the street would wave. The homeless man from the park would salute at us from across the street and then make his way over.
He carries a whistle and refers to himself as “sargento.” He does not speak much English but I listen to his stories, swept up in fluent Spanish and I nod my head. Che Guevara. Fidel Castro. Muy Guapo. We don’t need to know another language to hear the stories of others. We just need to open our ears to the Tone in One’s Voice, the Look in One’s Eyes, the Passion in the Sweeping of One’s Story Telling Hands.
People might call me crazy for spending my time conversing with this man, but he is quite endearing and he has so many stories. Better than People Magazine. Better than Cosmopolitan. Seriously, magazines should come here and write some feature articles. This man puts James Franco to shame.
I want to close with saying this, I have gotten swiped up in turning As Simple as That into a blog that is not about me. I have tried to eliminate myself from the picture in so many ways. But what I am doing here this year, serving others and living simply, is worth typing on this page. I do have stories to tell. Stories that I think you might want to hear. Stories that will fit quite nicely on this blog. Stories that will further my only mission for this blog: to show the world that we are not all that different from one another. We are really pretty similar. Me and the sargento in the barber shop? We are one in the same. And it’s as as simple as that.
So let the story telling madness begin. Go grab the animal crackers and meet me on my stoop.