A stranger named Larry broke my heart on Friday. And nearly every time I looked at his picture I felt sad.
While New York City has been known to callous someone, it has been known to bring out moments of compassion as well. New York City is a canvas of faces; each person is a unique color. Each person wears his or her own sorrow and pain and happiness differently. Each person ponders his or her day differently. And I think that if we just take a moment to see some of them, we’ll realize that through all our differences our underlying emotions are very much the same.
Have you ever barely met someone? Have you ever passed a person on the street and met their glance? Have you ever watched someone as they waited in line at a grocery store, or as they ate lunch in a park, or read a newspaper over a cup of coffee as they waited for the bus and caught a glimpse of their life? I use the word “glimpse” because sometimes the interaction takes place in under a minute. But it’s more important than that. Sometimes, during these tiny minutes, I feel like I have a most distinct understanding of who they are, not all that they’ve gone through in life, but perhaps what was left over. Maybe.
I approached Larry while he read the New York Post. He had curly hair, which grew tall on his forehead. He had warm eyes. He greeted my gaze with more care and ease than many of those I know. He was easy to talk to. I asked him if he’d mind being in a picture for a project I’ve been working on. He very much obliged. He said, “The New York Post? Absolutely. Absolutely.” That was all. Just, “The New York Post? Absolutely. Absolutely.” He positioned his body in the chair so it turned toward me. His suit was neatly pressed, his briefcase lie on the table before him. He smiled. His eyes beamed. Suddenly, I wanted to be someone really special. Not just some girl in a park with an expensive camera. I wanted to be Henri Cartier Bresson, an AP photographer for the New York Times. I wished I were Diane Arbus. I wanted to be someone who could actually do something for Larry, someone with clout, someone who would see to it that Larry’s picture ended up on the cover of The New York Post.
But I was just me. I was nothing. I was a girl who walked up to Larry in a park and interrupted him so I could take a picture for an online art project. Why couldn’t I have been there with a better opportunity for Larry? Why couldn’t I make him really happy?
There are these people I see every day. Sometimes I walk by them without a thought. Sometimes I barely notice them at all. Sometimes we bump into one another. Sometimes I say something to them. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes they repeatedly break my heart and I spend the majority of my day trying to repair it.
This is Larry. Larry did that to me. Larry broke my heart. And I’m starting to feel sad all over again. And now it’s Monday.