Dreaming and getting up and going to work. Repeat. Repeat. Pausing. Becoming aware somewhere along the way of the things around you. Making the right choice.

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I spent the night weaving in and out of really terrible dreams. All of them bizarre. In one, my cat lay on a human’s hospital bed and wasn’t going to make it, his fur wet and his body scrawny. I toss and turn with exhaustion from being upset within the dream. I open my eyes just slightly for a second and my heart feels like I’ve been running for miles — it’s quite heavy and weak. The next dream is of broken lovers, I’m always looking around for someone, but I can’t seem to find whoever I’m looking for. I’m in a strange place, as always. Finally, I awaken from what seems to be like 24 hours of my brain doing twists and turns. I go through my morning routine. My feet touch the cold floor as I slowly get up to feed my screaming cat, who is very much alive. I wander into the bathroom and look closely at each pore on my face before I delicately rub some silky flesh colored makeup under my eyes and dab a little pink stuff on the center of my lips. By the time I am out the door, I haven’t really thought of much, or of really anything remotely important. Outside, there are moments when I look at the sidewalk as I watch my feet step one in front of the other. One in front of the other. I’m not even thinking of the movement, and I think… How crazy it is, the communication between my brain and my feet. How I just continue walking even though I don’t seem to be thinking about moving my legs at all. Occasionally, I hear steps next to me or in back of me, and my eyes meet someone else’s eyes and I play a game where I guess what their day will be like, who they are and where they are going, if they are lonely or fully content. But most of the time, I am just on a walk to work and everything going on around me is easily overlooked — I’m basically floating above everyone without a care, it’s a little bit of an out of body experience. It seems it is something we have to do to survive as New Yorkers, and in other places, I’m sure. I have started to wonder about my daily routine — my waking up and traveling on the train and about the things I encounter, the things I see, and I’m trying to figure out why these things are happening and why I react the way I do.

As an adult living in New York it seems there is sadness happening around me every day. Just lots and lots of sadness that we’ve all become accustomed to and seem to step over on a daily basis.

Usually, “When we encounter a person, we infer something about their minds. Sometimes, we fail to do this, opening up the possibility that we do not perceive the person as fully human.” Social neuroscience has found through MRI studies that people normally activate a network in the brain related to social cognition — thoughts, feelings, empathy — when viewing pictures of others or thinking about their thoughts. But when participants in the study were asking to consider images of people of a different kind of life than their own — drug addicts, homeless people, and others they deemed low on the social ladder… Parts of the brain failed to engage.

It seems everyday I see people not recognizing other humans as one of their own — we seem to dehumanize the sadness we see happening around us. Now I realize, this exact thing is a part of my daily life. As I get on the train this particular day, if anything, I’m consumed with all of the things going on in my life and less about anything going on around me. I travel uptown and I get off at the stop for 23rd street. I don’t hear anything, but the sound of whatever music I’ve chosen for the 20 minutes of travel. Finally, I prop my headphones on the top of my head as I step out of the car. I hear a soft sound of metal banging again different kinds of objects. Wood, tile, metal. I decide to look behind me. A few steps back, a young kid grasping a sports bike with Nike high tops and a girl in stilettos with a pencil skirt, and inbetween, I see, just slightly, an older man in his early 70s. My eyes start at his feet. He wears a pair of khakis, there is a cigarette burn by one of the seams in his pockets. He is wearing a worn in but beautiful Irish sweater with a jean shirt peeking slightly out by his collar bones. I slowly keep moving up. His beard is unkempt and grey, his mouth trembling a bit. His eyes are closed. An Irish cap sits on his head, it seems to sit perfectly above his ears, worn in just enough to protect him from the chill of New York. My eyes travel from the top of his head, down his shoulders, and slowly graze his arm down to his right hand, wrinkled and worn, there, he holds a metal pole, that he swings back and forth in a rhythmic matter, touching everything around him just slightly.

He seemed to be struggling a bit. He also seemed to have made that walk before… But the moments where he swayed slightly to the right, just a little too much, scared me and I felt my heart sinking inch by inch towards the floor, as I continued to watch… However, my footing never changed. I was stuck. I wanted to help, but I couldn’t find it in me. Finally I took a step towards the turnstile. I allowed myself to pretend it was okay not to go over to the man. And that was the end to the story of the man I wanted to help but didn’t.

That night, I dreamt all night again. However, in this dream, I made a different choice. I walked steadily and confidently up to the man and I asked him if he was okay. Then I took his hand and clasped it with my own. I held hands with a stranger and I connected with him. We shared the same breath of air. He was like family, we were entwined because he needed help and I decided to help him.  I guided him up the stairs and across the busy street and before letting go, I asked him if he needed anything else and he nodded no. He thanked me for what I did, for what would have took  a couple of minutes out of my selfish Monday morning. In the dream I made the right choice… I continue to think of the moment where I made the wrong choice, I continue to picture the man’s face and the sadness and struggle and the people passing him. But mostly I think about me passing him.

This happens all of the time, everywhere. There is a homeless man who falls off of his wheelchair in Port Authority, laying on the floor, the people walk past him towards the ticket booth, as if he is a scrap of paper that fell out of someone’s brief case. They don’t see him. Or their scared because he isn’t like them. Maybe he didn’t shower this morning, his fingernails are black and maybe he’s saying things you don’t understand. But there’s another man (in this case, my father) who sees someone walking towards the fallen man instead of away from him. And well, he feels comfortable, and follows. They both take the man’s hand and lift him back onto his chair. As he walks away, he remembers the couple of dollars in his pocket that would be used for a useless coffee in the coffee cart outside his work. He turns around and he walks all the way back to the man, hands him the couple dollars and continues to walk through the subway halls, the same way he does every day. It’s these little moments we can learn from. There are little moments where we can step outside of our floating state, and make the right choice. We can tell our brains to walk towards instead of away, let that become routine, just like how your legs walk down the sidewalk and towards our destination without us even having to think about it. Let the destination be the right choice.

written by EMILY MARUCCI

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[featured images by NICK CEGLIA]

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