hand over hand

Hand over hand…….

Hands have always fascinated me as being a source of a person’s self expression and energetic power and so, as a means of avoiding eye contact with anyone on the late night train, my eyes were drawn to his hands.

He was sitting across from me at midnight on the 1 train heading downtown.  His body slumped forward, face down, gray hood spilling out from his red jacket and over his head.  Baggy gray jeans and boots completed the outfit.  His body swayed gently in rhythm with the rocking of the train that seemed to be nursing his nap.  My first instinct was that his sleep was drug or alcohol induced.  It could have been attributable to something else, though.  Perhaps he’d worked a long shift at his job and was so tired that he fell asleep on the train. Or maybe he’d been taking care of a sick loved one and was so exhausted and, perhaps, depressed that he simply didn’t want to connect with anyone and the train-nap was his conduit to disconnection or a much needed rest.

I was curious.  Lately I’m always curious about the human condition.  Living in NYC and spending ample time on buses and subways, as well as on the streets, can raise an acute awareness of others, I suppose, if you allow it to.  And unless I was willing to step into my curiosity, muster up the courage and ask him, I could never really be certain of exactly why he was nodding.  I’d simply continue to be a slave to making assumptions.  But that was okay.  I knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t ask … and didn’t dare wake him to engage in conversation.  What was certain, though, was that he’d boarded the train before I got on at 103rd street and would stay on after I got off.  What was also certain was that, at that time of night, there would be at least a few other people on the train who were also in that land of “nod” but their hood-covered heads were all up and leaning on the train walls.  What was certain was that I was actually the only person awake in that car of the train.  What was certain was that something about that young man sitting across from me held my attention hostage.

He seemed young but it wasn’t his age that drew me in.  I sensed he might be in his 20s but it wasn’t until the train lurched and his head popped up for a minute that I was sure about that.  His condition?  Still assuming that the nod was precipitated by drugs/alcohol after seeing his face and, if that was the case, I wondered what circumstances brought this handsome young man to this place in his life.  But that was MY “story” about him.  This could easily have been a one-off for him … or not … I just didn’t know.  And, while all that sketchy evidence was fertile ground for growing a sad and assumptive story, it still wasn’t what held my attention.

It was his hands.  They captured my attention like beacons demanding to be seen and were strangely beautiful; incongruous, as if a sculptor had crafted and attached them. They were gracefully lying in his lap, palms down.  Left over right.  Relaxed and, at the same time, strangely energized, seeming to have a beautiful light emanating from them.  And they curiously stayed where they were, like anchors, as his body swayed left and right; backward and forward.  There was something compelling about those beautiful hands and how they seemed to ground him, preventing him from falling over when the train lurched.  I could neither avert my eyes nor stop my mind from chattering on about him … and them.  And I’m sure the 7 or 8 sleeping men in the train car had NO idea I was staring at this kid’s hands.

His fingers were long and smooth and his nails were clipped and clean.  I wondered who he was and how he’d been raised. I wondered what he did for a living and what his dreams were.  I wondered if he played piano or guitar.  If not, he seemed to have the hands for it.  I wondered about the nature of his spirit and who he was when he wasn’t nodding in a car on the 1 train.  I wondered if his beautiful hands held and warmed the hands of someone he loved.  I wondered if his hands comforted and caressed the face of someone who was special to him.  Did he love anyone?

I wondered if he even had someone to love; someone whose hand he held or face he caressed.

I wondered if anyone had recently, or had ever, loved him enough to hold his beautiful hands or caress his handsome face.

And then we reached my stop.  I silently wished him love and peace as I left the train.  I didn’t know how far he’d ride the train or whether he’d wake up in time for his stop or if he’d just continue to ride all night.  I’d never know the answers to my questions and I was okay with that.  It was simply his presence that was most important.  And if I believe that everyone on our path is a teacher, then there was something to take away from the experience.

As I walked alone along a very quiet 72nd street, I considered the possible lesson.  We exist not to live in a vacuum but to make connections with each other; to create relationships so that our hearts can grow and our wounds can heal.  At one time or another, however, we all find ourselves riding through life alone.  Disconnected from each other and our own hearts.  Some of us numb ourselves and sleep through the ride shutting down the pain and confusion; others of us stay awake on the ride swaying and lurching in the heartbreak waiting and hoping for it to end.  It’s only when we establish connection with the soft heart and strong, loving hands of another human being that the doors of that solitary ride open, reconnecting us with our own hearts.  We can then regain our sense of humanity; our sense of belonging.

That young man’s presence and his hands touched me deeply.  Since that midnight ride on the 1 train, I still wonder about him riding on the train numb … and alone. 

There but for the grace of …………


4 thoughts on “hand over hand

  1. Wow. Beautiful, haunting, and I can see it all in the movie screen in my head, even feel the train’s sway. Sounds like the making of a very touching song. Frustrating in its ending, as you’ll never know the man’s story, and also that he’ll never know he had gained the attention and wonder of someone with compassion and a wide heart, a stranger who wished him love and peace in a very solitary and lonely moment.

    • It started out in my head as poetry … could definitely be a song. I’ve been dragging my feet on that because the words won’t line up “in the right way” (HA) so it was essential for me to get the story out of my head and onto the page first before it was taken away on the spiritual #3 express train. It was a little frustrating and a little like what happens when I’m doing my hospice work with non verbal or imminently dying patients. But it was also easy to let that emotion go and just sink in to the idea that he was there for a reason. Very different from the other men who were sleeping on the train …. he had a red jacket on; the others were in dark colors … I’m now thinking of the little girl in “Schindler’s List” in pink/red. And his hands were glowing. He was there to provide something for me … to teach me something.

      But his hands. Haunting.

      And it *was* a solitary, lonely moment … for me, too … coming home alone to be alone. Part of the learning was that many of us are in that same position. I’m one of the fortunate ones NOT to be sleeping on trains.

      I love you, brother of my heart. ❤

  2. Don’t get hung up the words lining up just right…take a tip from Sondheim or the writer of Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812, where very few line rhyme. The beauty of this potential song-story is in the story. But, if it stays just as it is, the impact is still as powerful. I’ve been thinking of it all afternoon while striking Christmas here at home (the set is almost all down, sigh). It’s the ending that gets me…the connection (incomplete), the mystery and wondering (unresolved), and the the notion this possibly sad and tired young man will never know he’s existing even today in words in the Ethernet. That’s the sad beauty. I love it!

    And the hands being the connector…the mechanism of touching and connecting one person to another, never moving, reaching, or touching you or another, yet you were so touched.

    The “sad and loneliness” of it is touching, too, but in your writing and posting this makes me wonder how many posts or texts or comments like this might exist out there about me, you, or other “unconnected” people because of how just a secret, unknown moment may have touched them.

    I love you, too, sis of my heart!

    • Yep. Hands are also the symbols of power and expression as well as being tools that can both hurt and help. And his hands were in my head as I walked along 72nd street from Broadway to my place. Definitely touched without touching. Mentally touched … Mindfully touched. Heartfully touched. Soulfully touched …. I think I’m on to something 🙂

      And thank you, SO VERY MUCH. As a “fledgling” writer, I appreciate your input and guidance.
      I love writing. There are so many ideas that are delivered to me daily …. Need to be motivated to write every day.

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