happy birthday rainer maria

Midafternoon, there comes a post-meeting lull. The tasks of morning domino to a calm conclusion. I open the work refrigerator. A sandwich rolled in paper napkins, wrapped in a blue New York Times plastic bag, causes me to smile. Whose sandwich is this? I wonder. Although scrappy, its wrapping project thoughtfulness, something purposefully brought together. I microwave a gruyere flatbread, and it makes a mess.

In the small space of nothing between doing one thing and then another, I find God in the gap.
Remember me? Says the silence.
And I had forgotten to breathe almost, until now.
When did I leave the silence behind? Didn’t I wake up in that peace—when was the last time I saw you?

This morning I squeezed into a single open gap on the C train at 72nd. Wet hair, backpack, bag of gym clothes, sweating underneath my quilted parka. I don’t want to get on this train, and no one on it wants me. I have been afraid of the subway since seeing a man with a metal bat on the 59th street platform begin swinging it at fellow passengers. I can feel myself instinctively shrink on trains, making my self small and placating. Obsequiously amenable.

The man by the door has salt-and-pepper hair, and he makes room graciously. Apologetically, I maneuver my backpack into the open space in front of him and barely clear the door. I lurch as the train starts. The man grabs my forearm to steady me. “Just didn’t want you to fall over,” he says, “that’s all that was.” Thank you, I say. “The warmth of kindness” is a cliché, but I feel a heat permeating the subway car after our interaction. “Where can I find positive energy?!” the woman next to me writes in her moleskine. I feel like I have tapped into an underutilized renewable energy source.

As I frantically texted my roommate about the man with the metal bat, I almost typed: “I hate this.” I stop mid-sentence, and leave the words “I hate” staring at me, unsent, in the draft bubble of our conversation. Is that really the response I want to give to the intolerable chaos of the city?

I apologize for every inch of space I cover, but the man on the C train welcomes me as though this train car is mine, and he has gone ahead to prepare it for me.

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