It’s quite amazing to me how we can change our perception when circumstances change in a split second and we are forced to choose action or inaction, being thoughtful or not.
The Subway Makeup Artist
It was just another day of taking the express train to thirty-fourth street. I watched as a woman in her early twenties got on the train at ninety-sixth street and sat down. She took out a tube of lipstick and began putting it on. It’s not too unusual to see a woman putting on lipstick – it’s a good five to ten minutes from ninety-sixth to forty-second street depending on how often the train slows down to a near crawl or arbitrarily halts for a minute or two.
As soon as the woman was done putting on the lipstick, she took out a small jar. I will confess that I do not know what was in the jar as I do not put makeup on my own face and do not make it a habit to study people’s makeup habits. It was some sort of cream, and she put it on various parts of her face. She followed this up with a powder that she brushed on her face, also in various areas. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through her mind as she put on the makeup.
I also wondered why it was considered an unusual thing to put on makeup on the subway. People would certain frown on the idea of someone completely stripping down nude and putting on an entirely different set of clothing on the subway – wouldn’t they? I decided that I wouldn’t try to be the person who just wanted to see if it was feasible to do it – I’m pretty sure that you can get arrested for being naked on the subway. Somehow, you never see signs advertising that on the subway, and yet people are always clothed. I see a lot of signs and hear announcements saying that panhandling is illegal on the subway, and yet it goes on anyhow. Are the announcements causing the panhandling? That was a joke.
The woman got up to get off at forty-second street and I decided that I would take the opportunity to sit down. As she started to walk away, with my thoughts still on her makeup show, a wool cap fell out of her pocket. I quickly jumped out of my chair and picked it up and yelled after her. She was quite grateful. It was a cold and blustery day and nobody should have had an uncovered head on a day like that.
I had a little giggle to myself about the woman and how all of a sudden I went from thinking how weird she was for putting makeup on in the subway to being concerned that she was going to be cold in the blustery winter day. This was the very same woman and yet in a way my perception of her changed faster than her hat had time to get to the ground.
All Rise – That Can Do So
I don’t remember when this happened but I remember that I was a child at the time. I was in a room with a lot of people and for some reason we all were instructed to stand up. I looked over and saw that somebody was not standing up. I immediately thought to myself that perhaps this person didn’t hear that everybody was supposed to stand. Then I thought that even if he hadn’t heard it, he surely saw that everyone had suddenly stood up at the same time except for him and should have inferred that he was supposed to stand as well.
It was only a couple of minutes later that I saw the man from a slightly different angle and I realized that he was in a wheelchair. I had callously judged him as being either uncaring about “the rules” or too incompetent to follow them and all along, he probably had no greater desire in his heart than to be one of the people who could stand. Too many times, we jump to thinking we know the motivation behind the actions or inactions of an individual, and we could not be any more wrong.
On Saturday morning, I had come to the neighborhood house of worship and was preparing a cup of coffee for myself. If you don’t know, from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday the Jewish people have what is called a Sabbath, and all manner of creative works are forbidden. This includes cooking and this means that I actually had instant coffee – which is considered already cooked. There is a procedure for making instant coffee which is unlike the procedure one usually takes during the week. There is another procedure entirely for making tea which is even more different than the weekly tea making.
To cut a long story a bit shorter, I noticed a prominent member of the community starting to make his tea in a manner closer to the every day tea preparation. He very quickly changed what he was doing and did it in the manner most observant people follow on Shabbos. (That’s another word for the Sabbath) He looked over at me and said that he must have been distracted and that is why he had started making the tea the way he had.
I thought that this man must have been very finely attuned to his environment to realize that there was a possibility that somebody could have noticed what he was doing and mistakenly thought that it was the proper way to do things. How wise that he spoke up and informed me of his reasoning. Even though I knew the right way to make tea on Shabbos, I greatly appreciated what he told me.
Sometimes we think that we have a scenario all worked out and it turns out that things are the exact opposite of how we reckon them. Sometimes people think they have us well worked out and we surprise them by being different. It is a good thing to think of that before rushing to assume that we have something worked out – perhaps we just aren’t looking from the right angle.