Wednesday, July 28, 2010

That’ll Cost You a Million Dollars

The hurly-burly of traffic can be more than just stressful. A couple of weeks ago, I took BART to work while my bike was in the shop. I walk relatively slowly, so there is often someone who thinks (correctly) that he or she will be able to squeeze in front of me going into the turnstile even though I’m only six inches from it.

Yes, this is irritating, but what can you do? Well, I confess that if the person is approaching from my right, I move to the right until they’re forced to go around me on the left, which is the exact same thing I do on my bicycle. Pass on the left! But we’ll get back into that later, I’m sure.

So after work I was back in the BART station, musing, as I often do, about how quickly people move, as if something horrible will happen if they don’t get down the flight of stairs in five seconds, and then to their waiting place in five seconds, and then onto the train before everyone else, and back up the stairs in five seconds …

It’s like everyone is constantly late for a once-in-a-lifetime lunch date with their favorite movie star. I said once to David C., “It’s as if they think they’ll get a million dollars if they’re first to the stop light,” and he said, “No, they think they’ll have a million dollars taken away if they’re not,” which I thought was insightful.

As I neared the bottom of the escalator, I could see a few people standing close by, and wondered why they didn’t move on. After I got off the escalator, I saw four or five people standing around a rather diminutive man who was leaning against the wall clutching his face, blood splashing down onto the ground. I dug in my backpack for absorbent materials. Someone went to notify the station agent. We realized the man should probably sit down.

I put my arm around him and helped him over to a bench. I sat next to him, rubbing his back, trying to comfort him. How dreadful it must have been suddenly not to be able to see, to be all alone and effectively blind in the rush hour scrum. He leaned forward, and I could feel him periodically shuddering, his back vibrating. Between our thighs was a small white paper bag of his, perhaps containing a cookie, covered with blood.

One or two of the others were still with us and one woman described the accident: the man had fallen on the escalator, cartwheeling entirely over not once but twice. The man himself added, “It was so crowded. Everyone was pressing around me.”

And then he moved the paper towels away from his face and I saw a tear in his skin—jagged, deep, dark. For a ghastly moment, I thought it was his eye socket, and that he’d lost his eye (which meant there was an eyeball on the ground somewhere, maybe already squished; I was forgetting it’s attached by a cord).

But, no, the deep wound was just beside his eye, thank god. However, there was also a very substantial thick, long chunk of flesh torn out of his face, now dangling alongside his cheek. It was a dreadful, stomach-turning injury.

Four police officers arrived then and one said the paramedics were close behind.

I’ve thought about that man a lot. A friend of mine recently had surgery and said she also had this man in mind when she decided to take an extra-long time before venturing out into the hubbub of the mecca (inside joke there)—that is, before going out where people aren’t necessarily careful about other people’s safety (i.e., pretty much everywhere).

Slowing down, at the very least, reduces stress. It allows moments of pleasure and well-being to be noticed and enjoyed, moments that might otherwise be missed or not exist at all.

For a nice slow week, and, at least temporarily, the improved skin tone that comes with eating many, many pounds of vegetables, I cannot too highly recommend a week at Spirit Rock or other meditation center of your choice.
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