Sunday Morning on the Metro-North

Over the long weekend I took a trip to Westchester County. I needed to get out of the city; it had been far too long since I had interacted with nature, and thanks to a friend I had the opportunity to spend the weekend surrounded by towering trees and vast waterways.

To get to my weekend oasis I had to take the Metro-North Harlem line. Traveling by train is by far my favorite mean of transportation. There’s something about sitting there, earphones in, and watching the world pass by at just the right speed — fast, but slow enough to truly take in the scenery in its raw form.

When the train first emerged from the underground darkness, a sight quite different from Grand Central terminal greeted me: Harlem. I watched the building-high murals move swiftly past, saw people carrying their groceries and pushing strollers, and noticed just how many plastic bags were in the trees outside the projects. Weird, I thought, that’s a lot of plastic clinging to those trees.

And then the project buildings themselves: some units with their windows open and various national flags bellowing out, and in one case a mop that looked to be freshly used drying out of a 20-something story window. The bricks looked worn, the ones with bars on the windows looked like prison cells, and the grassy courtyards surrounding the buildings looked gray instead of green, and most were littered with, you guessed it, more plastic bags.

As I looked out over Harlem from the heights of the train track, I felt as if I had, in just 10 minutes or so, passed through a neighborhood and got an accurate depiction of it.

The train then halted at the 125th street stop, and something profound happened.

A young girl, no older than 8 or 10, sat on her mother’s lap waiting for a train. Her siblings ran about and played with one another on the platform as her mother sat there immersed in the screen of her smart phone.

The doors opened and passengers came and went, but the family stayed put. They were waiting for another line, I guess. But when the train commenced its forward motion, the girl and I made eye contact, and she waved to me, and I waved back. We proceeded to smile and wave to one another until the we were both out of sight.

In those moments of waving, our eye contact did not falter. In those moments, we looked at one another from opposite sides of a glass, and we were both curious of one another. Who is that girl? Where is she going? I wonder if she’s like me.

The train chugged along the tracks and Harlem was nearly gone. But it was then that I realized how peaceful it was outside. It was a Sunday morning, around 10 am. The streets were quiet; there were no sirens, no flashing lights, no chaos; children and adults alike played basketball and soccer.

I no longer saw plastic bags, decrepit buildings, dead grass or barred windows. I was now truly seeing a community in its raw form. And it was thanks to a child whose curiosity sparked as she waved to a passerby on a train, and the light in her eyes when the passenger surprisingly waved back.

I saw a Sunday morning in Harlem, and it was the most lovely exchange.

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