I saw a story a couple of weeks ago about some kind, helpful, brave New Yorkers. A man fell from a subway platform onto the tracks, just a few minutes before a train was due to arrive. Three men saw him fall, jumped down onto the tracks, picked up the unconscious man, and, with the help of others on the platform, hoisted him back up, and were then themselves pulled to safety. A young journalism student was sitting on a bench nearby, saw what happened, and grabbed her phone and began to film the incident. It’s been seen by a couple of million people. The place where I first saw the report had a space for comments. One person wrote that, yes, New Yorkers rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done for their fellow man. Another person (apparently in a bad mood) wrote that the three were most likely not New Yorkers at all but people from somewhere else. And, she said, if they were actual New Yorkers, they only began to help when they saw someone filming, and helped because they thought it would be good for their images to be seen being so helpful.
I will say that I don’t find New Yorkers to be as outwardly friendly to total strangers as folks I know (or, rather don’t know) in Texas. We smile and nod at each other at the grocery store, if we make eye contact over a bin of strawberries. We might even say to each other, “These look delicious, don’t they!” And we certainly say, “Oh, excuse me,” if we’ve bumped into someone else’s cart or quickly turned a corner and almost collided with another shopper.
I went to the local grocery store with Jeremy, in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn. No one was rude to me. But no one was friendly to me, either. The only person who talked to me was a guy who was a store employee and was putting groceries on the shelves. No one even made eye contact with me, so I could smile and be friendly. They are busy. Very busy. And very focused. The only time I said, “Oh, excuse me,” when I seemed to be in someone’s way, the shopper looked at me with astonishment. Really.
Now, on Sunday, at Jeremy and Sarah’s church, every person I met was kind to me. They all told me how much Sarah and Jeremy mean to them and what hard workers they are at church. People chatted with me and made me feel at home. So, I guess if you’re looking for friendly New Yorkers, church is a better place than the grocery store.
Anyway, back to New Yorkers who stop and help. The Tuesday that I was in New York, Jeremy and Sarah were both at work. I knew JoAnne and I would be out and about the next couple of days, so it seemed like a good idea to get out and walk around a little bit. The subway stop is a long block, uphill, from the apartment, so I went that way. Then there’s a commercial area on the cross streets and I walked up and down a few blocks. It was warm and really sunny and, even though I had bought some new sunglasses, there was lots of glare. And, I was looking all around me, at the people and the different kinds of shops and the trees and, anyway, I wasn’t completely watching the sidewalk and my feet. I stumbled and fell.
IMMEDIATELY, four or five people stopped in their tracks and moved toward me. Someone picked up my glasses which had fallen off the top of my head. The others reached down to me and helped me up. “Are you all right?” they asked. “Do you need anything?” “Can I help you?”
“I’m fine,” I said, trying so hard to not be embarrassed (which I soooo was). “But thank you so much for helping. Really, I’m fine.” They all nodded and went off in their own directions. I walked on to the cross street and waited for the light to change. I walked across the street and stepped up on the curb, and a man who had easily been a half a block away when I fell, stopped me and said, “Are you okay?” “Yes, I am,” I said. “Thank you for asking.”
Here’s my take: they are busy, and they are preoccupied, but they are not oblivious. And when help is needed, whether you stumble on the sidewalk or pass out and fall off a subway platform, some of them, at least, are quick to help.
Last Wednesday, I was walking from the grocery store to my car. A man was pushing an empty cart towards the store entrance. As we passed, he said, “It’s a nice day, isn’t it.” “Yes,” I said. “It is.” (Obviously back in Texas.)
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’