I took the earphones out and shut off my music. Then I opened my eyes, as I grabbed a seat on the downtown 4 train at about 5pm last Friday. It’s the New York City subway and oddly, there was a sense of lightness, content, and connection. I’m not sure I know how else to describe it. I made eye contact with several people, instead of looking at the floor, reading, or gazing into a parallel universe.
Two older women stepped on and there was a friendly fuss over seats given up for them. Then one lady began to hum and sing. At first I thought my ears were deceiving me. Then I looked right over at her and she leaned back in her seat and smiled as she sang what sounded to be hymnals, in French. I thought she might be Haitian. Within moments there was banter–the aloof high schooler who put down her summer reading to listen and observe leaned over and smiled. The guy who looked like he just busted out of Riker’s peered over and smiled, glancing around at others to engage them in this woman’s unprompted muse.
Anyone within earshot had pulled out their headphones. And interestingly this woman wasn’t singing to be heard, necessarily, as subway performers often do. She was singing out of pure joy.
I don’t know, or remember, what pure joy is. The hours and days after giving birth to my two kids was pure joy; and then later seeing each take their first steps. But I don’t otherwise have joy. So the next best thing is to witness someone truly bursting with joy to the point of song.
This sounds entirely sentimental, I know, and very much out of character for me. But I learned just a little bit about the benefits of connecting with the environment–as hostile as it sometimes may be–and by observing the emotions and expressions of others, even strangers.
Can I inject a little of that sensibility into my writing? I hope so, since much of [my] writing is drawn from personal experience, but more realistically, that experience may just be second-hand. Witnessing expressions of a range of emotion and having the sensibility to observe and document is important. Then the beauty of writing is to take those snapshots and articulate them so the reader is right there with you observing and feeling, whether it is a fictional or true experience.