A Book And A Bench

The New York City subway system is less a place than it is the physical manifestation of a stretch of time. It’s a place whose entire purpose is to ferry you from one place you actually wanted to be to a different place that you actually want to be. In and of itself the actual space has nothing more than a transitory character, the kind of value that speaks not for itself but is entirely defined by before and after it. No other place so massive is so designed to be so ephemeral an experience. That’s where I was on the morning that I saw them, taking the subway from one place of value to another.

They weren’t, though. Or rather, if they were you would never have been able to tell. They were a pair of young children, alike enough to be twins, him and her both with heads full of bouncy, almost-bleach-blonde curls. Both of were reading with a fixation I'd rarely ever seen in my life, to the point that I swear I only ever saw their eyes track across the pages. They’d claimed an entire stretch of subway bench for themselves, as if no one wanted to disturb the perfect serenity of their reading by sitting next to them. The entire time I was on the subway with them, neither one even lifted a head to look around.

It was the sheer, undeniable force of their contentment that spoke to me. For the first time in my life as a New Yorker (which, it must be admitted, only actually spans about one year), I saw people in the subway who were less focused on where they were going than where they were. These two children sat on the subway bench with all the serenity of an old married couple on a park bench, and in doing so transformed that subway into something more than just a way to get from place to place. It was a place in and of itself, a place to read and enjoy the company of a person next to you as the world trundled on by beneath or above or beside you.

I could feel that contentment as powerfully as if I was the one parked on the subway with a good book and nothing but time, because I have felt that way. I didn’t need to know the book they were reading or the precise nature of the relationship between the two young siblings, because the sensation of having a book and a bench and needing nothing else is one I understand profoundly. For that one moment, as they transformed the subway, those two children became so powerfully real to me that I might have been reading over their shoulders or in their shoes. It was a moment in which they were just as powerfully real to my as I myself was, a moment in which I wish I’d had a camera.

With excitement and optimism,