I am sitting on the train back to Queens when I see it. I’m visiting New York City for Christmas, and it’s my first time here, so naturally I want to see as much as I can in one trip. I don’t travel alone in the city most days; typically, I’m accompanied by a cousin or other family, but today I want an adventure to Bryant Park to see the holiday shops and look at the large Christmas tree. I haven’t been feeling very Christmas-y anyways. I am away from my typical palm tree winters and traded them for snow and temperatures well below 70 degrees. Despite the Christmas setting and the beautiful lights of New York City, it still didn’t feel like Christmas. In fact the only consistent thing I’ve noticed while being here is how solitary it can be on such an overpopulated island. No hellos, no smiles, and definitely no eye contact. They just mind their own business and do their own thing.
Which brings me to the train. I’m taking the F back to Queens, and it’s crowded due to rush hour—standing room only. Most people squeeze in as much as possible to accommodate others boarding. This results in more silent people not looking anyone else. I’m one of these people, just trying to mind my own business and bide my time while scrolling through Facebook. That’s when I see it, a father and his two daughters laughing from a seat across from me. I can’t hear them through my headphones, but their body language is easy to read. The girls are hanging onto their father so they don’t fall as the train comes and goes from station to station. Their expression can only be described as pure joy as they head home; every now and again I watch their father chuckle as the girls swing from his arms.
I see it again in a couple looking over a map of the subway lines. They’re tracing a blue line that heads back into the city, seemingly amused by something the other said.
I see it in the older woman who walks in to the train car and a teenage boy giving up his seat for her.
I see it in the mother who is looking at an art project her son pulled out of his bag to show her.
I see it as I leave, the mother and daughter pointing the right way for my exit to Queens.
Compassion, joy, and patience.
These are all things that I hadn’t had time to notice while walking Manhattan looking for Christmas. The overwhelming feeling of the Advent season wasn’t missing but rather existed in the small ordinary actions. It took a crowded train car into Queens to remind me to be still and breathe—to witness the ordinary turn significantly extraordinary.
Emily Cortez is an English Literature major at La Sierra University. She writes poetry, travels to NYC, and would rather have palm tree winters than snowy ones.