For five hours, I sit on a bench. Some divine punishment for going too deep down a YouTube binge and then missing my bus to leave campus for break. Tired, hungry, and frustrated, I wait to line up for my new 10:15 p.m. bus. The last place I want to be is the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I cling to my bench seat, too scared to move, for fear of having to beg for it back. I am in a box made of cold cement walls and never-ending automatic sliding doors, where station managers facilitate intricate line manipulations to keep everything moving in a mechanical harmony—together the scene is an impersonal reminder of the impossibly complex world around me.
I try my hardest to be a “tough” New Yorker. I try to sit on the bench, headphones on, head down, aimlessly swiping and ignoring the real world, as I am caught up in the newest scandal posted online. As a college student and a proud member of Generation Z, being plugged into social media is almost instinctual, and I have often found myself overlooking the little idiosyncrasies of everyday life. However, on this bench, my curiosity gets the best of me. Within an hour, I am stealing glances at the cute stranger next to me or laughing at the pigeons trapped by the automatic sliding doors. Soon, the bench that initially seemed like a punishment becomes a front row seat to the unexpectedly interesting microcosm around me.
One of my favorite observances: a tired woman flustered and nervous approaching my bench to ask for, of all things, a book to read. While the question sinks into my brain, the man next to me begins to dig through his bag and pulls out a thin, slightly worn book, before handing it to the woman. She seems as surprised as I am, and with a cracking voice and a slightly puzzled face she asks, “Can I keep it?” With a smirk, the man replies, “As long as you want to read it,” and relaxes back into his seat as if nothing happened. The woman scuttles away, sits down across the hall and reads, her eyes wide and glued to the page.
In the pursuit of clout, clicks, and comments, everyday interactions become a whirlwind and we easily overlook simple stories like this. Almost daily, there is some new article, scandal, or competition posted in one of my group chats that explodes into an argument brimming with our opinions on a human rights disaster thousands of miles away.
In these chaotic conversations, the boundaries between what I know and what I feel can blur, and it becomes difficult to distinguish the truth from truthiness. As my friends and I confuse what is true and what we feel is true, we fall prey to Oscar Wilde’s old saying: “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” As our interactions become bigger, broader, and flashier, our actions and reactions become just as big, broad, and flashy, making it even easier to miss the not-so-hidden gentler side of the world.
This isn’t to say the introduction of opinionated discussion in everyday life is all bad. With our conversations, we are making traditionally inaccessible or touchy topics engaging and mainstream, and in each small conversation, we become a bit more conscious of very important issues. But there are times when, while worrying about the biggest, least controllable problems, I forget to remember the subtle glimpses of humanity that occur all the time. Little actions like holding doors, saying “Gesundheit!”, and giving away books happen without caring about a person’s opinion on today’s headline. These actions remind us that we are kind, vulnerable, and curious—just a few of the endearing characteristics that separate humans from stones.
The gratefulness that flooded that woman’s face when she received a book from my benchmate is one of my most vivid reminders of our humanity. For a moment, a curious woman and a generous man share a connection. I will probably never see that man, or that woman, or even tell this story again. It’s a moment and it’s fleeting, separate from all the sounds, sights, and sentiments of what we deem “normal life.” We are not on different teams, or arguing, or changing the world—we are sitting in Port Authority.
Enjoy leafing through our eighth issue!