It's almost 9:30 Friday morning on the Hoyt Schermerhorn platform in Brooklyn, NY. This is the station that gets otherwise Brooklyn and Queens trapped travelers the capacity to get to Manhattan, so the platform itself is often disproportionately packed at this time. This morning, the G let off a whole train full of passengers to join the already waiting throng, and it's obvious from the number of people standing there already as we cross the platform that there's something wrong with the trains this morning. Everyone adjusts energetically - this will be hard. Our will must be strong in order to get onto a train to Manhattan - we must be prepared to push our way onto the next A or C train.
Another G train empties while we wait, but it doesn't even seem to matter - there are so many of us already. We wait in silent anticipation for the battle we know must soon ensue.
After a few more minutes, a local C train arrives. This could be bad or good, and there's a sense of possibility as it approaches. But the irregular slowpoke of a train arrives packed like sardines and the platform of people steel themselves for the inhuman push that will be necessary. If anyone tries to be polite, they will be left behind.
Many people stand back as the C train fills - resigned and willing to take one for the team of New Yorkers trying to get places. It's a generous action, but no one is excited to be here and the tone is still a bit depressed. Those of us still on the platform watch the slow thickening of bodies through the windows, standing silently as the doors close and open again, struggling to contain their passengers. The doors finally close and the train departs.
Minutes go by. We had hoped for an encouraging word from the train conductor, a promise of another train directly behind this one, but there was no word. We wait. An ominous weight fills the space as the anticipation of another round of battle builds.
An A train arrives, also crowded. Of course the situation we're in has been happening at all the stations behind us, so we're just the latest episode in this drama. Those of us who held back before now push forward with a sense of entitlement - we've already done our part to make this work, but now we have places to be. Our previous generosity has been replaced with certainty that we belong on that train and will do whatever is necessary to get there.
The train unloads a few passengers, then slowly engulfs its new travelers. I see just the right amount of space for me and step on. Things are about to get interesting.
The woman next to me - pressed against the wall at the door since the doors opened - starts to speak loudly. "NO. This won't work. You need to wait." She's speaking in my general direction, though there are a few others that might be in the wake of her frustration. She goes on with certainty about the not-working-ness of our situation. She's breaking whatever tacit agreement we all had to do this battle silently, in a way asking for what she wants, engaging in creation. She is speaking to change the way we fill the overcrowded train.
The guy in front of me has a huge backpack on and I suggest that he take it off. My feet are on, even if my head is hanging out the door, and I'm determined to stay on this train.
This woman agrees, and then even the people outside the train are repeating that he needs to take his backpack off. The poor guy can't turn around to respond to anyone, so he's trapped and being bombarded by this criticism.
Then here's the part I love so much.
He said with frustration, "You gotta help me."
The whole energy of our doorway shifted - the critical woman and I reached to help him take his pack off, holding the straps to disentangle his arms which were trapped in between other bodies in front of him. Our relationship had immediately flipped from possible enemies prepared to battle for space on the train to collaborators, working together to help out our comrade in arms. We celebrated our collaboration for the next few stops, naming our success, appreciating the challenge we had overcome. Our small corner of the universe was filled with a sense of victory, possibility, appreciation and love. We changed the momentum and created something tangible together.
My friends - all things are possible - even love between strangers on a crowded rush hour train. Ask for what you want: it may break the cultural norm, it may come out in frustration, but it is the source of transformation and healing, the calling for love that cannot help but magnetize connection, collaboration, support. We are magicians. Let's get our magic on!