Sunday, November 8, 2009

Balancing on Trains

The subway rattles along its track. We are underground and the interior lights wash us all in a yellow haze. In front of me is a man standing close to the double doors. He is at least fifty years old, maybe a little more. His hair is completely white and his skin would be considered white by many people on first glance, but it is actually a deep shade of pink, almost red. He has on a pair of khaki pants and thick white tennis shoes. A loosely-fitted red T-shirt is untucked from his pants and revealed by his unzipped light white jacket.
There are plenty of seats on the train, it is Saturday and just a little after 3pm. I have left the hordes of tourists above ground and the commuters still have another day to relax before the cycle begins again. Instead of taking a seat, the man stands close to the double doors. His feet are spread wide apart, not horizontal and parallel to each other, but aligned vertically. His left foot reaches out a couple feet from his body and his right is extended behind him. His knees are bent slightly. Instead of holding onto the silver railing that outlines the door, he has his hands raised out to the sides, nearly halfway to his shoulders. His body sways back and forth, moving as the train does. His arms oscillate up and down, providing balance as the cabin wiggles forward on the tracks. His eyes are fixed on something low to the ground in front of him. His light colored eyes are open wide, nearly mesmerized by the object providing him a sense of stability.
The words that come to mind are “crazy and postal and bug-eyed,” but they pass quickly through me and I watch him with a small smile on my lips. I am the only passenger that has a view of his face, the rest of the half dozen people sit behind him. A couple of steps away from his wide stance are two middle aged Latin women. I watch them as they laugh and joke with each other, each so comfortable and happy. One sits slouched into the seat, the other sits a bit taller, but they don’t seem to think about their bodies, their shapes are now merely habit. They focus only on the face that laughs beside them. They each look at the man occasionally, but they do so as they talk and their bouncing conversation does not stop. I study their faces to see if they are talking about the man, but their expressions and body language do not imply that they see anything strange. There is a portly Latin man a couple of seats behind the women. He is dressed in dark slacks and a white button-up dress shirt. The other people are a blur, forms with no distinction.
I look to the man. His eyes as wide and focused as if he were watching the whole world crumble. I take a bit of comfort in imagining that no one else sees him, just as I knew this morning that no one saw the tears spill across my cheeks. The train had been crowded, but no one saw. Twelve hours later the world has changed, but it really hasn’t, and we stand alone.
The train lurches and the pink-faced man looses his balance slightly and stumbles to the right. He smiles and then after a few seconds, yells, “DAMN!” He looks at me with a smile and says something, but the noise of the train drowns his communication. I smile back, somewhat shyly. A little shocked at his loud outburst. He refocuses and opens his eyes and raises his arms. His hands are nearly parallel to his shoulders. The other passengers are watching him now. The women keep talking and laughing, but now they look at him differently, with the faintest hint of suspicion. He is not doing anything particularly odd, he’s just trying to balance, as he would on a surfboard, but given the place, given the norm, it is unusual. It is so unusual that he might as well be dressed as a clown and singing off-key. It is completely other.
Three years ago I saw a man practicing what seemed to be Aikido moves on the train, but besides him, every other rider I have ever seen walks immediately to an open seat, and if one is not available, they grab a rail and hold on. How can a man simply not holding onto the rails or taking a seat in a nearly-empty train seem so odd? Just this slight difference in body posture means the difference between “normal” and “weird.” Practicing balance. The man is practicing balance. No matter what is beneath the feet, no matter how the body is thrown, he works to maintain balance.
Before the sun had risen I looked at the tarot card of the moon. But it was not just a moon in the dark sky, the shape of the moon was yellow and embedded within the round shape of the sun. Below the moon/sun was a long path, on either side of which was a dog and a coyote, both had their tails and heads raised to the sun/moon. All morning and afternoon I had held the image of balance. It was a balance and merger between the conscious and the subconscious, between the dreams and waking life. The unification of the spectrum and the long path that led beyond the mountains.
I watched the man practice his balance. He used his time differently. Much different that anyone else around him, much different than me. The train came to a stop and the man stood a little straighter, the double doors opened and he looked at me, “Have a good day now!” he said cheerfully as he walked out the doors. I smiled at him and the train continued on.

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