The train screeched to a halt in the tunnel between Manhattan and Queens.
A train stopping in the middle of the night in the middle of the tunnel in the middle of a work week is no unusual thing. Mysterious stops between stations are a status quo on the 7 train. The interesting thing about this stop was that the particular car I was in lost power. The vent fans went off, the regular lights shut off and all that was left was the emergency lights, throwing their eerie iridescent glow over the faces of the train car I was in.
I was busy playing a riveting game of Plants vs. Zombies, but the sudden silence made me look up. There was no noise except the breathing of the other people in the car with me. I looked at the quiet, patient faces of the New Yorkers sharing my subway. The silence seemed to stretch on and on as the stopped train waited for some unknown signal to let us move again. I felt deeply uncomfortable. No noise, except the breathing of the people in this car? Is something wrong? Where is the clack-clack of the tracks? The droning of the Air Conditioner? The screech of wheels? I felt myself wanting to giggle from the discomfort. This is so silly. I’m getting anxious over some quiet? Am I really that much of a New Yorker that silence can make me look up from my game and focus on what is going on around me?
A guy listening to his headphones, which now seemed like they were blasting, started to dance. I could hear his every shuffle. He swung his hands through the air, and bobbed his head in time to the rhythm. I watched him dance. Then focused my gaze to the two sleeping lovers across the car from me. They had been sleeping a moment ago, but the silence woke them up. They looked amused by the whole thing. Others looked like nothing was different, some people were so lost in thought I wondered if they even noticed that the train had stopped. I felt sad watching them. What was on their minds that weighed so heavily that complete silence is not loud enough to break that spell? I thought back to a 365 days ago… where I was emotionally. That might have been me, a year ago. I was so lost in thought thinking about my ex that maybe I might not have even noticed New York’s movement, pausing for a moment to catch its breath.
Just as suddenly as the noise went off, the train and sounds of travel switched back on and we lurched forward. The silent moment was gone. I bowed my head back to my game, but couldn’t help but smile. That was so quietly beautiful. I liked hearing the people around me breathe. There was something wonderful in the inhale and exhale of the strangers in my car, that I was reminded of the comfort drawn from breath, whether my own in the silence of my room, or listening to someone I care about breathe. Breath is life. Breath is constant, always there adding its own small sound waves to the cacophony of noise that blasts our ear drums every day, even when the train and the vents and the noise and bustle and the movement of this busy busy city aren’t always there.
January 7, 2012 at 7:22 am by Natalie Allen