Years ago, my youngest sister Nora commuted to work each day from Hoboken, NJ to NYC. Knowing she wasn’t yet a “City Person,” I asked what kept her going in that still-alien environment.
“I can have a totally crappy day, but sometimes, after I take the subway home, I emerge from the escalator to hear a street cellist playing a Bach prelude…”.
That model and metaphor of encountering sweetness and angst and beauty in the midst of a city’s cacophonies is still with me.
Last week, a guy who refurbishes appliances delivered a new used washer/dryer to my apartment. Noticing the city’s Fire Department logo on his jacket, I asked. Yes, he was a firefighter.
With a “pass if you’d rather,” I asked, in a job like that, what kept him going?
He talked for almost a half-hour.
He talked about homeless people. About people who just plain didn’t care. About people who’d given up so completely they had maggots in their legs. About how new trainees had to enter burning homes, not just the practice building, in order to really know if they’ll panic or not. About losing his son, who’d only been nineteen. Yes, I’d heard that right.
What else did he talk about? There was more, but this was all I could take in.
So, back to the question of what keeps him going?
“I get to serve.”
He was another cellist at the top of the subway stairs.