I was on a New Jersey transit train going eastbound from New York City to Princeton. A Saturday morning, so the train was packed with young adults who had spent their evening drinking, dancing, and enjoying New York City’s extended [4am] curfew. I walked towards the corner seats at the end of the train vehicle— a pair of two-seaters facing one another. On one of the two-seaters sat an older, small-framed African American lady. “Can I seat here?” I asked. She nodded affirmatively and, after rapidly swallowing her morning breakfast, responded, “Of course!” We exchanged a hello and possibly a random small-talk comment about the weather. I can’t remember. She finished her breakfast and crumbled away the McDonald’s paper bag, as I typed a text message to confirm my arrival time in Princeton. She enthusiastically commented on the useful of text messaging and cell phones in general. “Oh yeah, I don’t know how we’d do without it,” I said in agreement.
The conversation continued. She asked me if I was Indian. I told her that I was from Venezuela. “Oh Venezuela. They speak…Portuguese there? Or Spanish?” She asked. I clarified, and using both hands in the air to outline a map of the Americas, I told her where the country was located. “Is it loud there? Like, do you hear gunshots? Because that’s what it’s like in my neighborhood,” She voiced. I had to think for a few seconds because her question triggered a memory in my mind, but I didn’t exactly know how to answer. Dogs barking; my mom waking up paranoid in the middle of the night; the death of a boy in the neighborhood. Loud- sometimes; gunshots-sometimes; neighborhood- yes. I had to assemble fragmented pieces of information running through my mind before I answered, “Um…Sometimes, yes.” I continued to tell her that it really depended in what part of the country or city you lived in, but then I suddenly realized that the same thing could be said for her neighborhood, her city…and for the United States.
The train announced Newark Penn Station and the lady wished me well and left. On that day, I embraced a philosophy that has since been part of my daily interaction with the world around me. I believe in that through somebody else’s story, part of my own story can be unveiled. I believe that if I wake up every morning and embrace the day with an open mind and with open arms, I give myself the opportunity to let others teach me our similarities, and overlook our differences. When I least expect it, the least expected person on a train, in a room, or elsewhere, can bring to light a part of myself through his/her story. Through interactions with others, I am constantly learning about myself and the world around me. Since then, I embrace my every day routine with openness to any individual that I may come across because I can always discover, or rediscover, something about myself through a simple and short exchange of words.
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