Subway Brutality and Supermarket Friendship

I spent another weekend walking the city; something in the air makes me do it. I forgot how stimulating it is to explore someplace alone and quietly, to be completely lost, to stop and rest when I’m tired, and to eat when I’m hungry. It reminds me of when I did nothing but explore new places while backpacking alone through Venezuela and Colombia. I made friends asking for directions, uncomfortably posing for pictures with a group of high school girls, and with the waiter who brought me a cappuccino on restaurant porch overlooking a lake while the sun was setting. I took the subway downtown around noon on Sunday and walked to Parque Chapultapec. The park was filled with crowds of people, tall trees, lakes, paddleboats, and food tents. I walked up a curving road to the Castillo, a relic of an older time sitting in the center of the madness. The castle is now a National History museum, and unfortunately I got there forty minutes before it closed. After I spent a half an hour awed by murals, I stepped outside and leaned against the castle’s stone balcony looking out over the sprawling city. The storm clouds were high and threatening over the green sky, and the dark mountains seemed to hold the metropolis at bay.

My heart pounded as I stared at the harsh beauty of the immense city. It’s hard not to feel something while looking at the enormity, greatness, and folly of human civilization. In moments like this I feel like there is a thread of meaning connecting human experiences. It’s hard for me to shake this feeling because I want to believe that there is an enduring place for us in existence, a place in the beyond. After listening to This American Life last night, I wonder if this feeling is just a manifestation of the delusions of grandeur (Cue Rick Cousins on Collin Cousins). However, the concept that we classify anything as a disorder is problematic for me, especially in regards to someone else’s consciousness. As scientists burrow down the rabbit hole of discovering the biology of our brains, I find myself more and more confused about basic human concepts like holding people responsible for their actions and how we can change our own behaviors. If behavior is genetics and biology, and the desire to change behavior is also genetics and biology, then how have humans developed the cognitive dissonance associated with self-improvement. Maybe this is where we are unique from other animals, the blessing and curse of humanity in our ability to desire to change ourselves. Or maybe I just need to change how I’m looking at this whole idea, because possibly due to the impossibility of changing ourselves, what we actually want to change is our actions, leaving dissonance tied only to the feeling of regret.

Riding the subway home on Sunday night, I was leaning up against the track-facing door when a shirtless young man holding a bundle of cloth came into the car. He was skinny, covered in acne, and had bloodshot eyes. At first I thought he was just awkwardly trying to sell something or beg for money, but then he spread out the rag on the floor and I noticed it was filled with broken glass. He laid down on the floor, crunched his torso up, and slammed his back onto the glass, again and again. A boy sitting next to this brutality covered his little sister’s eyes, and most of the car turned to look away. The young man sat up, rolled up the glass, and walked the length of the car holding his hand out for money with pieces of glass still stuck to his back. Leaning up against the subway car in a clean white t-shirt with the whole world in front of me, I wondered where the meaning was in this kind of life. It’s moments like this, or when I see physically wrecked older people begging for money in the streets, that I cannot see or believe in a rhyme or reason.

Every two or three days when I pick up something at the grocery store near my apartment, I stop to talk to a man who sits outside next to the cubbies where people store backpacks and purses. He has some sort of disability that confines him to a wheelchair and appears to twist his body into tight knots. I give him money, set down my bags, and listen to him talk.  From what I can tell, he always begins by talking about his life and his philosophy. I often have trouble understanding the voice coming out from under his thick uneven mustache. I’m not sure he remembers who I am because ever day he looks at me with his bright dark eyes shining out from under his cowboy hat and asks me “So blondie, how long have you been in Mexico? Do you live close by blondie? Do you have time to see some tricks?” I say yes, and he reaches under the little blue towel that sits on his lap and pulls out a wooden paddle with a lamination on one side only. He shows me how he can spin it with his twisted fingers and his eyes closed and tell me which side is up.  Other times it’s magic tricks with strings or cloth. I used to try to talk to him, but now I just say ‘hi’ and listen because he talks for both of us. It’s the best part of my day, he speaks with joy and hope.

By no means am I trying to say that most people who seem like they’re suffering are always filled with hope and happiness. On the contrary, I imagine that most of the time people’s lives appear hellish, it is because they are hellish and because their bodies will only continue to fail them as they become poorer and more and more relegated to the shadows, there lives will get worse until the day they die. This idea rips the floor from under my feet, which I understand is a pale shadow of nothing compared to the the actual reality. It also makes me want to live and fight to better the lives of those around me until I’m gone or need care myself. This shouldn’t be the natural state of humans; if our intellectual evolution has done anything it should give us the empathy and respect to care for our brothers. If there is nothing more than this moment, then what can be more precious than to love people and care for them? I’m not a religious man, but seeing the hell that people go through on earth, I can see why people turn to God in hope of justice beyond this life.

Every day or so, I find myself closing my eyes and replaying one of two incidents, it’s one of those thought patterns that’s both self-directed and automatic, a delicate blend of the two. Sometimes I’m back in Silao, doing pullups in a park at 8 am. I hear something and look toward the bushes about a hundred yards away. I see her run out and get pushed to the ground. By the time I get to her, he’s already run away, the same asshole that looked me in the eyes while I was running. When his long blade flashed in the air, I stopped to grab a rock and I am still haunted by these seconds. Time doesn’t slow down like it does in the movies, in fact I don’t remember having any time to think, only to react. But I am haunted by the knowledge that those seconds could have meant her eternity. Luckily I didn’t have to call a hospital, only hold her and say it was going to be ok.

Other times when I close my eyes, I’m swimming as hard as I can away from the canoe and against the current, my head above the water as I pull it like I’m trying to tear it apart. Suddenly I see my mom’s head break the surface and I start bellowing at her. Later I swim to get the canoe before it crashes down the next set of rapids. It isn’t until I’m laying in the tent that night that water runs down my cheeks and in that moment I feel grateful for such my strong mother and the opportunity spend the rest of my life balancing the scales. I’ve come closer to death more times than I would like, but I never think about it much until afterwards. However, as my own mortality begins to flesh out, both life and death feel more significant to me. On one hand, I don’t want to be cavalier with the incredible and precious life I’ve been given, but on the other hand, I believe life is precious because of how I live it and who I am, and that having too tight a grip on my own existence could alter the man I want to be. Living in fear might not be a life worth living, and I’m believing more and more that living for others can be the best way of living for myself.

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3 Responses to Subway Brutality and Supermarket Friendship

  1. Rick Cousins says:

    I want to leave a comment to compliment your work, but words fail me at this point. I will try to compose something to express how thought-provoking this post has been to me—your dad

  2. Janice Martland says:

    Hi Collin….This piece was stunningly beautiful on so many levels…I am speechless…thank you for sharing it!

  3. mary mccrossan says:

    Dear Collin,
    Thank you for sharing yourself with us through this blog. You are a talented writer and are blessed with a true sense of self. You have already accomplished so much and positively affected many people in the short amount of time you have been in Mexico! Please remember to take care of yourself, though, so you are able to continue your remarkable journey.

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