His story reminded me of a time when the universe put me in a very specific place, at a very specific time, in order to help someone I didn’t know.
(Time Tunnel music up here.)
October 3, 1995
Does anyone remember that date?
It was the day the jury came back with the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial.
I watched the verdict on TV at work, with literally half the population of the U.S. (according to Wiki).
The media played up that there was “concern” that there might be rioting in the city over the verdict. The details are now fuzzy in my head, but I think I decided it was as good of a reason as any to go out to Long Island to see my mom.
I think I left work a little early, and I walked down to Penn Station. Which meant that to get to my train I was going down the main, big staircase at 7th avenue and 33rd street. It was a little early for rush hour, but hundreds and hundreds of people were already streaming down those steps.
And that’s when it happened.
Going down the stairs I was behind a man in his sixties, grey hair, wearing a red plaid chub jacket and grey pants. Midway down I saw a basic number 10 envelope fall out of his back pocket. I picked it up and taped him on the shoulder.
He turned around and looked at me, then looked down at the envelope.
“Oh my God,” he said. “Thank you for returning that to me. I can’t lose that.”
It’s not what he said, but the way he said it. There was sheer terror and exaggerated relief in his eyes at the same time.
We were stopped for a nanosecond on the steps as the crush of commuters flowed around us. The energy between us was so strange, so odd: as I handed the envelope to him I felt that like I was literally handing his life back to him.
I really can’t imagine what was in the envelope. It wasn’t flat, it felt like it had several pages in it. It crossed my mind that if it was so important, what was it doing in his back pocket?
It was the briefest of encounters, but it has haunted me a bit since then. It may be that the action of getting that envelope back into that man’s hands is the single most significant thing I will ever do on this earth. That’s okay with me.