After we climbed down the steps (there are 17, Ethel told me) and walked to the front of the platform, the A train arrived and I told Ethel it was very nice to have met her, and helped her onto the train. Once she was on, she asked, “is there a seat open?” And a few lovely passengers helped her to one. And there she went, to continue her adventure.
Today started like any other. I went to the gym, and then on my way home I stopped at the market to pick up groceries for the week. The San Diego girl in me has still not learned the, “only buy what you can carry” way of grocery shopping, so I’m usually loaded down like a pack mule whenever I leave the store.
I began my walk home, and noticed an older woman coming out of a building assisted by a young girl. Once she was at the sidewalk the girl went back inside, and the woman pulled out a cane. She was blind. As I neared her I heard her say, “is anyone going to the subway?”–well I wasn’t, but I could. The subway is only a short distance past my apartment, so I said,–“I am.” I piled all of my grocery bags onto my left forearm, she took my right arm, and we began our walk to the subway.
Her name was Ethel. She’s lived in the city, “forever.” She has a two bedroom apartment, with an entryway, a living room, and a big kitchen. When she moved in the rent was $200 a month, and even now with rent control it’s under $900, so she’s “never going to leave.”
Ethel went completely blind when she lost the use of her retinas, but she doesn’t have arthritis or anything, so she’s grateful for what she has. Every day she makes her way from 184th street to the New York Public Library on 67th. She takes the A to 59th, and get’s help crossing each street until she’s there. She’s not afraid to go outside (in a city where even those who have sight are intimidated by the subway line and crowded streets), she just asks people for help.
She goes to the library to listen to music. Classical music. Today she was going to finish a movement by Beethoven, and then ask the librarian for a new album to listen to.
As we approached the metro pay booth (my left hand completely numb now from the load of groceries) the teller said, “hello Ethel” and she began the process of finding her money, and the window, and putting two rides on her metro card. A young man passed us as we finished at the window and said, “oh hi Ethel, where are you headed today?” She was the most popular girl in the 181st station.
Ethel is my new hero. She lost her sight, so she goes to the library to listen to classical music. I imagine her there with the headphones, letting the symphonies paint beautiful pictures in her mind. She knows where she wants to go, and just asks for help to get there. What a valuable lesson, to a new New Yorker (or anyone) feeling cold, and sorry for myself, and a bit intimidated to ask for the help to go out and make something happen. So, now I won’t. I will remember my chance meeting with Ethel, and go up and ask. I will set out on a new adventure, and be brave.
Faux Leather Skirt: Zara (on sale now!) // Gold bracelets: Red Earth (ethical brand) // Black Purse: Angela – Rio (giveback)
Photos by the wonderful Sarah Jenkins.