The Subway Experience

Sometimes you walk through life and watch. I know I certainly do. I watch for moments, okay, mainly I fantasize about the moment of action. That point of possibility that words don’t describe but you feel instinctively.  And while the potential is there to act – when two sets of eyes catch each other and stall – I generally don’t. I see it happen and I let it pass. Sometimes I think about it after and sometimes I don’t.

I was on the subway and I was reading. It was a good read. Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. People get on and people get off. Someone new sits next to me and something registers in my distracted mind that they’re speaking German. I have to look over and my eyes are met by the most adorable little girl with a sparkly sunglasses and a baseball hat. I’m not sure which happens first but we both smile. Absolutely genuine smile. In that moment all I want to say is “sprichts du deutsch, ja?” but I don’t. I think about it. And I find that not saying something auf deutsch to this adorable little girl is absolutely impossible.

After the first line, my fear of being the worst german speaker in the world dissipates. She’s ecstatic. I can just imagine it from her perspective. Big city, new, exciting US trip. She sits down on the subway and she’s beaming with excitement and the person sitting next to her can understand her! Her older sister joins in and we have a brief conversation. Which ends when I realize that the doors are open and my subway stop is here. I dodge out with an Ich muss gehen and am just absolutely thoroughly happy.

On my way to class I think about what I wanted to tell her. I would have told her about it being my first day of class. That I’m studying art. All this german flows back and while I had found myself briefly searching for words on the train, I know now exactly what I needed  to know.  I’m so happy about saying something that I have to sit down and write it down. I get teary eyed even. All I can think is that not only can I understand her language but I can understand the awe she feels in this big city. And part of me just wanted to tell her that. Even though I didn’t, even though I hopped out of the train, I know that those two girls just impacted my story of being in NYC and I’m willing to bet that I impacted theirs.

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