A haunting dilemma. A group of us took a weekend in New York City before Christmas. We saw the Christmas Show at Radio City, visited Rockefeller Plaza, Times Square, Saint Mary the Virgin, Grand Central, and all of those other wonderful Midtown Manhattan “must sees.”
Someone suggested that we visit the 9/11 Memorial. So we figured out what subway we needed and headed underground. I’m always amazed at New York’s subway system. I remember it as a kid, when the train windows were open for air, with rock walls clearing the open windows by inches as we sped like lightening under the city. It’s much cleaner and nicer now, but still amazing. When the doors to our train opened, it was packed. As one does in New York, we just crammed ourselves into the packed car, as the doors closed behind us. One also learns to grab hold of something very fast, because the trains accelerate quickly, and the last thing you want to do is end up in a stranger’s lap. I grabbed the nearest poll with a death grip. Immediately I noticed two very young Asian women under my elbow. They had a quick few words with each other, and the nearest one stood up and motioned me to her seat.
Oh oh – instant clash of cultures. It was drilled into my head as a kid, that you offer your seat to a woman. It was obviously drilled into her head that you offer your seat to an old person. What was I to do? If I accepted her offer, I would be acknowledging to myself that I was old and needed a seat. If I turned it down, I would be rude and unappreciative. This moment of self image crisis was all happening at breakneck speed under the streets of New York, with a bunch of people watching.
I made my decision. I motioned that I was fine, and that she should take her seat. “No, No” she insisted, as she pointed to her empty seat. RATS! One of my beloved companions whispered (as much as you can whisper on a speeding subway) “Sit down. She’s doing the right thing. She’s being polite.”
I couldn’t do it. I looked at her with a smile and said, “Sit Down.” She sat, with a shameful look on her face. I felt horrible, but I still had a semblance of dignity – sort of. Taking that seat would have been an admission that I’m old, elderly, whatever you want to call it. But I didn’t feel old. I was a young Turk again, riding the New York subway on an adventure. It was exciting. It was energizing, and I could not let that go, even if it meant being rude.
My Mama also taught me not to be rude. It was a great trip, and I learned a life lesson – that self image trumps kindness – and I learned it zipping along under the streets of New York. When the doors opened, I gave the two young women a big smile, a wave, and jumped to the platform. That was the best I could do.
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