|As a regular user of public transportation, I have gotten used to the habit of always being in a rush. One day, I raced down the stairs to catch my train home, and to my own fortune, I missed it. I walked down the station in annoyance and began to hear one of my favorite songs, “Unchained Melody.”Three men were singing their own version of the song to the beat of an old boom-box. The music gripped the attention of quite a few individuals waiting for the train. I was mesmerized. As I waited for the A train, I unplugged my earphones, and self-consciously swayed to the beat…hoping no one thought I was crazy.Soon after, I saw a man wheeling a cart of numerous churros (a Spanish fried-dough pastry). The churros turned out to be a crowd-pleaser. The diverse group waiting for the train began to form a hungry crowd. A businessman stood beside the crowd, unsure of whether to purchase a churro. He watched the many people forming a line and asked the man selling the pastries, “What are they?” The man didn’t quite understand what he had said and replied, “Two for a dollar.” The businessman continued to ask and the vendor told him it was a pastry. Eventually after careful observation, the businessman purchased two churros for a dollar and headed toward his train. I glanced over at the vendor giving him a look of understanding. I knew exactly what it was like to have to explain an ethnic food that many people did not know of.
In my elementary school, lunch was often a predictable period. Most children brought sandwiches. I took a leap of courage by bringing something different to eat. One day I decided to bring doubles. To me, it was far better than any sandwich. All of my classmates looked inquisitively wondering where in the world that different smell was coming from. Finally, my classmates realized I was the one with a different lunch. They all asked me “What is… that?” I told them, “It’s basically two squishy breads with chick peas in the middle and it’s spicy.” Some of my classmates were confused, others turned off, and others wanted a piece! Nevertheless, I felt proud to be able to explain what it was and eat it without feeling inferior. I recalled this moment at the train station feeling a connection with the vendor despite our different ethnic background. Even though he was selling churros and I had doubles for lunch, we both imparted our culture to others through the use of food.
It is no surprise that by living in a big city, we are bound to come across different people, cultures, and ideas. Everyday we meet someone or learn something new. But even though we live in such a large, diverse city there is still so much to experience and learn. It takes just a little observation and comparison to notice what a fast-paced lifestyle we have. One of the most obvious ways to notice diversity is by taking public transportation. However, when we travel we are often wrapped up in our own lives, schedules, and commitments. Sometimes we don’t recognize the richness of our environment despite the gum pasted cement and unpredictable commute.
At times we often get caught up in our own circle of comfort which shelters us away from different cultures, ideas, and varying opinions. We become very used to our own ideas and forget to recognize the big picture. For example, you squeeze into a packed A train. As each stop passes, more and more people get off the train until there are only two people left…You and the other individual, who remains standing right next to you. What has changed? Your personal space expands and you begin to wonder “Why is this person standing so close to me?”
Many of us forget to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Maybe the individual is from a different land and has a different perception of the situation. Or maybe that individual really is unstable. The truth is things really aren’t so black and white. We all have different understandings of the same situation. No two minds are the same. Plato, a Greek philosopher, once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” We each have different experiences that lead us to react in different ways. Understanding another individual takes much effort. But it is also the key to solving a controversy, conflict, or disagreement.
In order to truly learn and experience what is around us, we must take a step back, recognize the richness of our environment, and break our circle of comfort. This is no easy task, it may take a lifetime. However, we are all capable of trying new things whether they are food, aromas, or even a new idea. The businessman, some of my classmates, and the new me waiting at Fulton Street are all examples of people who broke out of their circles of comfort. So next time, try a churro, delight yourself in a new aroma, and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Because when you try something different, there no longer is a barrier between “Us” and “Them.” There is only “Our.”