Something I've always loved about being in New York are the moments when I connect with a total stranger and come away feeling happy and filled — and as if I've had an intimate interaction. Even though I may never see the person again, these random collisions have always been important to me, always given me something meaningful — despite their brevity and transience. [In an earlier post, The Big Disconnect, I describe one such encounter.]
So I'm taking this wonderful MOOC on Positive Psychology [ala Wikipedia: "A massive open online course (MOOC; /muːk/) aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web.] in an attempt to bring more joy into my life. Being a pessimist to the core, I'm learning so much about positive emotions about how they can impact not just mood but your physical well-being. The professor, Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, brings research to bear in all her weekly "video lectures" along with some prerequisite academic jargon.
Professor Fredrickson gave name to these random exchanges I experience and calls them "micro-moments of positivity resonance" that strengthen our lives and enrich us with connection and love. These moments can happen between spouses, parents and children, friends, between people and animals — as long as they're mammals — and even between strangers. Lately, I have been blessed by these "micro-moments of positivity resonance."
I'd been having a bad day, just dragging myself from one thing to the next, feeling low as I got on the subway. One small space, not really a full seat, was available between two small children guarded by their standing father, and a slightly unkempt man who was muttering to himself. I slid onto the edge of the partial seat not wanting to crowd anyone and not wanting to sit back and squish my backpack which contained food.
The father motioned to his kids to inch over and make more room but I said, "No, that's alright, I don't want to sit back." and this prompted the man on the other side to direct his muttering at me.
"Apologize to him, well that's somethin'. You need to apologize to ME. You don't want to sit next to ME you fucking bitch? You need to apologize to ME fuckin' bitch. Well you can just move your fat ass BITCH..." and more and more menacing mutterings.
My initial instinct was to turn to him and say, "You have no reason to be so mean to me. I've done nothing to you, in fact, I was trying to be polite by not sitting back all the way." but I didn't because by then I realized he was mentally unstable and who knew what he might do? Still, I was so low it felt as if I might burst into tears from his ongoing verbal assault that I tried to tune out but couldn't. I said nothing, stared straight ahead, and tried to hang on to myself emotionally.
As the train started slowing into the next station, the father standing on my left said, "We're getting off at this stop; kids stand up. You should move over," he instructed me and I did. Then as this family exited the train, from inside the car, another passenger — late 20s strong-looking guy — quickly moved to sit down next to me and positioned himself in a way that created a blockade between me and Muttering-Guy. At the same time a 20-something young woman came to stand directly in front of me. The young guy leaned toward me and said very gently, "Are you alright?" as the tears welled up in my eyes and I struggled to keep my composure.
Staring straight ahead, embarrassed that I was not in control of my emotions, I quietly blurted out, "I'm alright, really I am, REALLY," I stammered, "I'm just having a bad day." As the tears started rolling down my face, this woman kindly began stroking the arm of my coat, telling me it was going to be fine, just fine. And the young man soothingly iterated the same. I think the tears in part were because I felt such gratitude toward these total strangers. Though they knew nothing of me and little was said, between us there was a connection. They had gone out of their way to insert themselves and shelter me. It was a loving thing to do.
At the next stop I thanked them and got off the train. In that moment I was reminded that New York is always a place where I have been able to fill my empty reservoir with the kindness of both friends and total strangers.
Soon, I'll share another "micro-moment of positivity resonance" that lasted an extraordinary and unbelievable THREE hours!