Surprise on the 5 Train


New York moves at such a blinding speed that it engulfs you. It can be dizzying. It's almost out-of-body.


But there are exceptions to NYC's general rules and pacing; it does sometimes slow down and provide truly tender moments of humanity. The surrounding chaos of 8.5 million people only adds value to those moments, to me.

A few weeks ago, I boarded the 5 train downtown, destined for Grand Central.

My arm wrapped around the rail near a doorway, I noticed a young man standing beside me. He was scribbling something onto a notepad. He would pensively survey the somewhat crowded train, occasionally lifting his pen to his mouth, and then scribble a messily written note. (No judgment on the penmanship, given the subway's jostling.)

He was probably 12 years old, middle-school-aged. He was noting what he saw on the train that Tuesday late morning, perhaps for a school project. But I noticed a page said, "This is a diary." Maybe he was just a curious young person.

I couldn't make out much of what the notebook said, except "everyone is on their phones." (Guilty.)

Between the Brooklyn Bridge and the 14th Street stations, which is a relatively long ride for a subway path, someone down the way started to address the suddenly captive audience. Anyone who has been on the subway knows these heartbreaking speeches, someone down on their luck in search of help. Money. Food. Something. It's both unfortunate and common.

"My name is Fernando," the man said, "and I'm hungry."

The speech rambled for a minute or so, and he circled back to that line - "My name is Fernando, and I'm hungry" - three different times. He closed with it, in a final sort of gasp, and hung his head.

Fernando then made his way down the train car, but he received very little attention - before or after the speech. New Yorkers are so numb to this sort of speech; heck, tourists can become that way after a day or two. Even so, Fernando still sought a handout.

He instead found a hand out.

The young person standing next to me reached out and gently grabbed onto the cuff of Fernando's worn gray sweatshirt.

"Your name's Fernando?" the Observer asked.

Fernando nodded.

"Can I pray for you?"

Fernando nodded.

The Observer, hand still wrapped around Fernando's wrist, pushed his glasses up on his nose and prayed for that stranger in the center of the 5 train.

Their heads stayed bowed as the train docked at the 14th Street station. Several people had to labor to get around them to get off or on the train. But Fernando and the Observer didn't flinch; they stayed in their house of prayer. Tears on my cheeks, I exited the 5 with their prayer as my final image of them.

Regardless whether you're a believer, it's nothing short of inspiring that the Observer, a young boy, saw and heard someone, a stranger, and met him in that place of hurt. He left his comfort zone to literally extend a hand and his heart. He cared. And he cared enough to act.

Even in the craziest, busiest city in America, it reminded me that kindness and empathy still exist and they still matter. It was beautiful. It is beautiful. Faith, hope and love, embodied.

God bless both Fernando and the Observer.