Something Amazing Happened on the NYC Subway

Last week, my evasive Christmas spirit was uncovered by a stranger  I met on the subway, as he put his safety on the line to fight for peace and respect.

Christmas is done for the year. So why has the Christmas spirit stayed with me? It is all about how it came to me in the first place.

For a number of reasons, I did not go into Christmas Day with a sense of Christmas spirit. Not moping around, or emulating Mr. Scrooge. I was just not feeling it.

Shortly before the holiday, in the New York City subway, I got onto the 1 Train. When I sat down, I realized quickly I had sat down in the middle of something. Not sat on something, like gum. In something.

Across from me was an African American man, with an African American female companion. He didn’t look entirely   hardened but he indeed looked like he could take care of himself. Someone I wouldn’t  want to piss off. Very sure of himself.

There were also five to seven largely African American teens (no census was taken, it’s an estimate) a few feet from us, further up the train car. The gentleman across from me was exchanging heated words with them, with volume and determination. The essence of conversation, impossible to avoid, revealed that this group of teenagers had been expressing themselves in a manner which does not portray the African America culture in the most mature, positive, productive light. Liberally exchanging “The N Word” (which I indeed understand is an often used part of vernacular within the African American culture), the group had seemingly been loud, aggressively rude and disparaging/discussing a female passenger with high disrespect.

The animated gentleman across from me was liberally and actively chastising them for not conducting or carrying themselves and acting as young men (stressing the word “men”). For some reason, the group of teens felt the compulsion  to save face and defend themselves and their unearned sense of pride in very active, crude and aggressive manner. The interaction commenced to superheat.

It was very impressive that this man, along with the cheering on of his female companion, appeared entirely fearless in his aggression towards the out-of-line teens and their point. He puffed up and advanced, commanding “ You better not be getting off at my stop” A threatening suggestion of violence if they exited the train at the same station as him. I don’t approve of violence, but there needed to be fear of consequence. He shouted out his stop, inviting them to stay on until he exited, taunting them and showing the absence of fear, despite their advantage of numbers.

They didn’t stay. Predictably, the gang got off two stops prior to the gentleman. As they exited, the doors remained open for a protracted period, and tension rose quickly as an exchange between the one and the many escalated. Will the doors ever close?  We all waited to see if they would surprise us and foolishly charge the train, a substantial melee about to unfold.

If a melee scores at 100 on the tension meter, this was at an 85. I might even go to an 87.  Funny enough, even with all of this within five feet of me, I wasn’t fearful—just wondering what do I do? Get off now, stay in seat, run, move, start videotaping on my phone for the next potentially viral video?

Ultimately, it did end peacefully. The gang got off the train for good, the doors closed, the teens shot a machine gun fire of additional insults, including generously suggesting the man was a homosexual. All while hiding behind their numbers and the steel doors between them. I promise you: if any of them were by themselves with this man, they could not have defended themselves—he could take care of himself. Self-assured, very. It seemed that the young men became braver when the door was between them. How brave would they have been without the safety in numbers? A gang makes you act as if you are much braver. Courage by companionship.

Even after the train departed, the gentleman was  still continuously remarking to himself, and to others, how unfortunate it was that these young men conducted themselves in that manner.

I felt compelled to reach out, to congratulate him for a job well done, for being a positive force, for being brave, for being a lone voice, and for saying what needed to be said. I spoke. “You don’t need approval from me.” (After all I am Caucasian person, so how could I relate? Plus, I didn’t know the guy) I fist-bumped him for effect. “More of that, “I said, with a focused and earnest look in my eyes, hoping he would take away the core-reaching encouragement to continue ministering peace and good sense “More of THAT.”

I wanted to salute him for promoting civility and peace and acting like adults, discouraging negative behavior. This was a reminder of the Peace on Earth concept so prevalent at Christmastime. In a small way, this gave me a nugget of the evasive Christmas spirit as I sat by the person marveling at their mildly heroic act of unflinchingly  standing up for an ideal,  and an idea.

I realized later I was able to record a short snippet, the ending of the exchange. The most important words the hero had spoken. He is heard to say “It’s nothing personal–We have to sit back and conduct ourselves like young men.”

Hear the original recording in a recent episode of the Monkey Radio with Marc podcast.

To promote peace. Particularly at this time, with heated concern about racial relations and respect and widespread protests motivated by racism—a remarkable thing. To watch an African American man take on a group of African American young men to tell them to behave themselves was an extraordinary thing to witness.  And the truth is—it shouldn’t feel that way.

Peace on Earth. Good will toward men.

Maybe there’s something to that…