Saving a Life

New York SubwayThe young man was counting twenty dollar bills in his hands when he moved forward and stumbled and fell on the subway tracks. It was right in front of me. I looked urgently at the digital sign above. It said a train was arriving in one minute. One minute.

A thousand images flashed before my eyes of people caught on cell phone cameras in moments of absolute mortal danger. You always wonder what you would do. What you would do if something like that happened in front of you.

And there it was. An opportunity to do something. Or nothing.

And then I realized I had jumped down onto the tracks, just like they tell you not to do. The same sign scrolling, “If you drop something on the track, leave it.” But I was dragging him up as best I could and heaving him back onto the platform. Thankfully, another man reached down and pulled him the last few inches to safety.

Looking down, I saw his twenty dollar bills scattered on the rails and I gathered them up and put them in his hand. I don’t know why I did that.

As I sat him up and talked to him, I could feel the air moving forcefully over me. It was the approaching train. The sign was flashing zero minutes to arrival of the next train. The train roared past, its driver, its passengers unaware of how the evening could have unfolded. The Lexington subway station closed because of an incident. People trying to capture video on their phones for the evening news. A young man died on the tracks tonight. Police do not know if it was an accident or a suicide. They are appealing for witnesses.

But he was alive.

I looked at the people around me and saw something I wasn’t expecting. The eyes of strangers set in judgment. Set in their negative judgment for the young man with long hair and dirty fingernails who had staggered onto the track.

There was no smell of alcohol but his eyes were distant, like they had been separated from the violence of the present. And the people judged him.

I felt awkward when he thanked me for saving his life. It wasn’t like the images on TV when you wonder what it would feel like to do something like that. I just felt sad. I was sad for the way we judge people for being down and out. And how we admire those who have more than us.

I went home on the subway, searching for the exhilaration of saving someone who no one cared about. That sign was still scrolling in my mind. If you drop something on the track, leave it.

Unless you want to save a life.

Happiness is in the Detail

Water DropletFor most of my life, people have been telling me that it’s all about the big picture. It was only very recently that I realized that they were all wrong. You see, big pictures are made up of a thousand details and if you ignore them, you ignore life.

Often, we focus on the destination or the outcome and fail to take care of the detail. It’s like spending your time dreaming of that lifetime vacation without ever having a plan of how you are going to get there.

But it’s more profound than that.

It was the other day that I realized I leave our apartment in the morning much happier if I have seen the bright, crazy and beautiful smile of my darling six-year-old girl. But the profound realization was not that sometimes I left too early and missed her smile. No, it was the realization that the space that would have been filled with happiness and joy was now filled with sadness.

This started me on a simple task: to make a list of the things that make me happy and the things that make me sad or anxious. It was on this list that I found my daughter’s smile­—but also bacon sandwiches!

And saying, “I love you forever,” on the phone to my old mum and hear her choke up a little because time is not on her side. Hearing her say back to me that I will always be her little boy and how she remembers putting little toy farm animals in my Christmas stocking when I was four years old.

What else did I find on that list? Recognition, feeling worthy, making progress, loving and being loved. Never having to say sorry. Those are more complex details but nonetheless, they are details in the big picture of happiness.

So far, my list has over thirty things on it that make me happy but the list is still growing. The list of things that make me sad or anxious is shorter because most of them would be the absence of what makes me happy so there’s no point in listing them out.

And my list took me to the next place: to ensure that every single day, I was focused on the detail of happiness, adding those moments in increasing quantity to my life. Then, subtracting the details that make me sad or anxious. And that means never missing the infectious smile on my little girl’s face in the morning­­­­­­—even if I am late for that meeting!

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t step back once in a while to survey the horizon. But when we think about all the things we should be thankful for, we cannot miss the reality that they are all details.

Just as the devil is in the detail, so too is joy and happiness. If you take care of the details, the big picture will take care of itself.

Me, I’m getting on the phone to my old mum to tell her I love her and let her hear the giggling voice of her youngest granddaughter. And I’m eating a bacon sandwich.

Rejecting Paradise

200456192-001Sometimes we just want to feel alone, to feel sad, to feel failure. It’s not that we enjoy self-pity. It’s just that loneliness, sadness and failure are what we think we deserve.

Growing up with poverty and abuse creates a powerful sense of where you belong and what you are worth. In its most destructive form, it gives you an overwhelming belief in your own worthlessness.

As I distanced myself from poverty, I eventually realized that not once did I feel that I deserved what I had achieved. And as I formed loving and caring relationships, I looked for ways in which those relationships would be used to inflict emotional harm on me. The more my life became ideal, the more I seemed to want to reject it.

I was not worthy of love or success in any of its forms.

Sometimes it is a parent who infuses in you a belief that you must, “Never forget your roots,” or, “Don’t get ideas above your station.”

Other times, it is the bullying of a sibling who constantly tells you the world would be a better place if you had never been born.

And so, when life gives you good things, you work hard at pushing them away, at not being happy.

A friend of mine sold his company and overnight he became extremely wealthy. I asked him how it felt and he said, “I’m worried and I’m fearful. I’m afraid that I will lose it all.” As the conversation continued, it became apparent that he had grown up poor and didn’t think he deserved to ever have more than his parents had.

In the end, for me, it took one loving, beautiful person to come into my life and explain to me my destructive behaviors. To show me how powerfully I was rejecting paradise because of a deep-rooted belief that I was not worthy of it.

Some people may think this is utterly ridiculous. But to someone who has experienced the self-destructive behaviors that reject love, happiness and material rewards, it is all too real. For some, rejection is a way of life – so much so, that paradise is always just out of reach and therefore not even available to be rejected.

Sad Songs

Heaven B&WWhen Pop died, Nana said it was for the best because he would be with Saint Peter and the bright lights of Heaven. We were watching the television when Pop rolled up his bed blanket and said he wanted to go home because the war was over. Then he fell down near the front door and some men came to take him away.

But it wasn’t long before they brought him back into the front room.  Nana said I had to say goodbye to him but there was no way I was going to give him a kiss for all eternity.  I would not kiss someone who was dead.

But I did look at him.

He was in his suit and he had his medals from the war on his chest.  And someone had put his teeth back in and his tongue wasn’t hanging out, the way it did before he died.  I don’t know how they did that because it was a really big tongue.  He was also wearing lipstick and makeup.  He still looked like a ghost.

Mum said she would bury him with Grandpa because she had bought a two-for-one burial plot. Pop and Grandpa always argued when they were alive and Mum said they could now argue for the endless time of the afterlife.

Nana never cried. But that night she put her sad songs on the gramophone and she whispered those words in my ear.

“But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow… And I shall hear though soft you tread above me. And then my grave shall warmer, sweeter be. For you will bend and tell me that you love me. And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me. I love you, my dear boy.”

She said that Pop would always be with me, like that song. And so would she.

When people go away, you will still see them again, one day. One day, you will see your Nana again and then you can be with her forever and ever and you will never be alone. She will hold your hand as you walk down the street, singing together. And when you get home she will cuddle you on her lap by the fire and she will sing you one of her sad songs and whisper in your ear that she loves you and she will always love you.

She will always love you.

And you will be a man one day, and always love her.

And though she left me long, long ago, it is true. I will always love my Nana and sing her sad songs inside my heart until me meet again.

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