The Selfish Privilege of Selfless Service
By the time I got to work I was furious. I woke up that morning in rumination over all of life’s problems, and typically more of them followed. The bus took forever to arrive (hint: if a bus is part of your daily commute your life needs improvement), and when I finally got on its air conditioning felt like the walk-in refrigerator at my old restaurant job (we all have computers in our pockets that connect us to everyone and everything on the planet yet still cannot properly configure indoor temperature regulation?).
The train platform at my transfer was humid enough to instantly warm my insides and induce perspiration out of my still thawing pores, only then to be returned to the state of frozen vegetables on the subway car to match the aforementioned bus.
The 6 train’s last stop is supposed to be Pelham, but the MTA is nothing if not full of surprises, which often includes the impromptu and inexplicably castigatory announcement: “Last stop, last stop!” forcing everyone to get off and wait for the next train that would actually travel the agreed upon route.
A half hour later we were ejected again, this time at Parkchester, three stops short of my destination, and my iced coffee was finished, now urgently pounding against my bladder, my kidneys operating classically weak after insufficient sleep. Just trying to get to work here.
I scrambled to find somewhere on the platform to pee, but there were people everywhere. Not a lot of people – but at least one person in every mini area, which makes public urination a less desirable option for anyone wishing to upkeep the appearance of functional member of society.
Finally, fuck it! I angrily left the station, figuring I had a better chance of finding a tree or fire hydrant on which to relieve my bodily excrement. Don't judge. When society, i.e. public transportation, ceases to properly function, its citizens follow suit. logically.
It was a pee-spot-search that rivaled the worst I’ve ever had. As a disciplined water drinker with a busy schedule I’ve had to pee in public literally hundreds of times (and probably closer to 1000 than 100). I’ve become an expert at scouting, however this instance proved especially challenging. There were no empty nooks, no barren crannies nor parts of the long walk free of fellow commuters where I could comfortably release. I was desperately squeezing from the inside and out, cursing the MTA, cursing NYC for not having pay-per-use public toilets, until somehow I guessed right on the Wendy’s at Castle Hill, and… nirvana.
The rest of the walk was bittersweet. My relief was second only to that of a woman who just gave birth, but I was disgusted with everything else, including the film of sweat now caked over me from this mid-July episode of panic. I walked into the office ten minutes late and saw my kind-hearted patient sitting patiently.
“Sorry,” I said, “I’ll be right back out for you.”
“Oh no problem,” she smiled, and she meant it. She’s so sweet.
Three minutes later my sneakers were off, shoes on, skin mostly dry and we are in my office – just the two of us sitting across from one another as we have been once a week for the past month.
An older Caribbean woman, though not nearly old enough to have the problems she does. She had a stroke six years ago and has been unable to properly walk, talk or use her right hand since. Right side hemiplegia, which indicates a subjective degree of paralysis on that side of the body. She hasn’t been sleeping well, is frustrated by her progresses of two steps forward followed by one back, also terrified that she’ll “never be normal again.” As she conveys this behind a losing effort to repress tears I feel awful.
Suddenly the MTA and my bladder are the furthest things from my mind, not only because they pale in comparison, but also they are no longer the problem at hand. No matter how self-centered and egocentric I tend, now I must focus on understanding this poor woman’s pathology. In a few minutes I have to determine the "perfect" acupuncture points to use and then as painlessly but effectively as possible insert a bunch of needles into her body. My ego would love it if this could be done while still mulling over my own issues and public transportation, but fortunately I’m not talented enough to "multi" tasks of such disparity.
I listen to her with my entire being, empathizing while analyzing. I realize long before we finish talking that she has healed me. With my energy entirely on her it has no choice but to jump ship on my own pain. I’ve fully arrived at work. I’m no longer “some guy,” some pissed off commuter, no pun intended, or vagrant behind a tree. I am a healer, for better or worse, and this other (wonderful) person is in need of my help. It was an interesting experience that I watched transpire within – that familiar calming 180 that for me would normally take a few hours or half a day of socializing, breathing and caffeinating, took about 60 seconds. It was my most acute experience of the cliché truth that selflessness is the most personally rewarding of intentions, and a nice reminder that I chose a really dope job.