Common Stranger

Gig the Show

Body to Body.
Packed so tightly.

I squeeze onto the rush hour train, the doors opening for a moment to swallow us whole.

In clusters, we reach for the nearest pole, chair, or even the ceiling for some kind of balance.  My arm weaves in between sleeves and purses to grasp on, the totem of various fingers wrapping around the horizontal silver.

Before me, a smaller woman is sandwiched in between everyone else, with nothing to hold onto.  She tentatively reaches out for a person’s shoulder, but withdraws in concern, afraid to hold on, but having trouble with the fast moving car.

She meets the eyes of a woman in front of her who says,
“You can take my hand.”

Their palms meet over the shoulder of another gentleman, as the packed car moves with the sway of the tunnel turns.  They exchange a smile, and then the smaller woman relaxes completely.

And she closes her eyes.

For two stops I watch her holding on in complete trust with a stranger who just offered a hand.  Her eyes closed, she rests in the throng of the crowded car.

The doors open and the good samaritan bids her goodbye, and then a FDNY fire fighter who was watching the same scene offers his hand to her.

He gives her a place to hold on to until she exits in midtown and playfully says,

“Don’t talk to strangers.”

She smiles and thanks him, exiting the car.

At Penn Station, I walk onto the platform out of the silver doors, following the fire fighter, knowing I have just witnessed something both remarkable and common.

I feel warmed by the scene.  I feel warmed by the humanity.

Isn’t this what we are all seeking?

 

Last week I sat enthralled in the audience for Gig The Show, presented by The Performance Project at University Settlement in downtown NYC.  Conceived by Artistic Director Whitney G-Bowley, the piece was a collaborative joyfest with singer/songwriter Jenna Nicholls.

I was supporting two choreographer friends of mine and a dancer who were all a part of the project.

The performance space was large with high ceilings, filled with a packed audience.  The dancers warmed up on the stage taking turns leading, as we sipped wine and beer, settling into our seats.

Already, the fourth wall was down.
Already, we were a part of the evening.

I looked down at my program to see a beautiful black and white illustration, and a short description for the piece:

“Join us on a journey from young love to new.  Each song is matched with another-
The First: A call to action
The Second: A life-changing response.  Looking through the eyes of one woman manifested in many forms, the entire room will face challenges, find joy and grow old together.”

And then, Jenna Nicholls came out with a ukelele, and the spell was cast.

A mix of Madeleine Peyroux, Billie Holiday, and Ziegfeld Follies, her voice enchanted and set the tone from which all the dances emerged.  There were 14 songs in all, shared by 9 different choreographers, and 12 dancers.

Created by many, and unified in concept and intention.

The music ranged from jazz to country to introspective ballad, in varying tempos, and all executed flawlessly by the company.

There was absolute cohesion, and the audience leapt to it’s feet at the end, clapping and cheering as Jenna shared,

“I just want to say how grateful I am to be a part of this show!”

Funny, that’s how I felt sitting in the audience.

I congratulated my friends, sharing in their radiant energy, enjoying their bright beaming faces; their story-driven choreography and powerful ensemble work spilling out of our mouths and bouncing off our skin.

Standing under the warmth of the colored lights, I witnessed something both remarkable and common.

This is what we were all seeking.

 

I remember sitting on a subway car over two years ago, feeling as though I was made of fragile glass.  My purse held stacks of white folded tissues, surrounded in plastic.  I was buying packs of these weekly, using them up daily.  Though it was morning and I was headed to a temp job, the car was not busy, and I stared down at my book, a collection of Rumi poetry, trying to soak in every ounce of inspiration I could.

I may have showered and applied my makeup with care, but I felt far from together.

My bones were lead on the seat, my heart a tiny broken beat in the cave of my chest.  There was a dull ache there, and a cough that reminded me of the fire that was engulfing my life in divorce and loss.

I looked up from my page to see a man across from me with his head in his hands.  He was bent over, his fingers deep in his roots, forming an arc of despair. I had a moment of complete recognition.

He was a picture of how I was feeling inside.

I was flooded with empathy for this stranger, feeling his pain, and knowing I was not alone.  Someone else was struggling today too.  Someone else was riding this subway feeling pain. And I rose from my seat to step into my day, feeling less isolated, and sending this man all the compassion I could.

I was witnessing something remarkable and common.

This is what I was seeking.

 

In me.
In him.
In a vibrant dance.
In an offered hand.

“The entire room will face challenges, find joy and grow old together.”

Witness what is remarkable and what is common.

What are you seeking?

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