As the subway pulls in to Grand Central, I adjust my shoulder bags and get ready to sprint. I am trying to make the 11:37 am train to Larchmont to help my brother-in-law with my twin nieces for the day, while my sister is away on business. The onTime Metro North app, which I use to check the train schedules and tracks, tells me I have just about 3 minutes. I don’t have a ticket yet and don’t want to buy one on the train.
I’ve taken a $10 bill out of my wallet so I can access it and pay quickly at the ticket machine.
This is going to be tight.
The subway doors open, and I launch out of the gate like a thoroughbred at the Kentucky Derby.
I race up the stairs, weaving around the people. I start to tackle two at a time, but that slows me down. I can run faster if I hit every step.
(Note to self: work on speed when taking stairs two at a time, so that you will be better prepared for next time.)
For a fleeting moment, I consider going around to the main set of turnstiles, where I can get the escalator and land on the 42nd Street side. I push that thought aside. Stick with the Lexington Avenue side. It’s less crowded. Any time I might save by running up the escalator will be offset by the time it will take to navigate around more people.
I push through the turnstiles. Weaving around the people, mindful of not bumping into others, I bound up the next set of stairs to the Lexington Avenue corridor.
I am tempted to double check the monitor for the track and time, but cannot spare one second to stop now. I must rely on my internal clock.
I race to the group of ticket machines that are just South of the great room. A man is coming towards me. I make the first move, to my right, to go around him. He sees me bob and weave and he responds by moving to his left. In my direct path. Not cool, dude.
I weave to my left. He starts to weave to his right. I give him a look that says, seriously? while flashing him my sweetest smile.
This is Train Station Etiquette 101. When you see someone racing for a train, you her out of the way or prepare to get run over. This is city warfare.
I charge ahead. He backs down. Smart move, mister.
I am grateful that there is no line at the ticket machines. They are all credit card only. So much for preparing my cash.
I tap the buttons for the train.
Grand Central to another station
Rail ticket only.
So many steps. At last, the payment screen. I pull my credit card out of my wallet. I insert it into the slot slowly and remove it deliberately. I know that if I try to do this too quickly, it won’t read and I’ll have to do it again.
There’s no time to rush.
Enter your zip code.
I take care to press each number with certainty, so they register properly.
There’s no time to rush.
Your ticket is printing.
I put away my credit card, keeping one eye on the machine. I look down and see the ticket there. I grab it and pivot to run to the track, clutching the ticket in my hand.
I weave around people, my gaze darting all around me. I am both focused on getting to the track and present to my surroundings. As I approach the entrance to Track 17, the station names are flashing. I know this means the train is about to leave.
I dig deep and sprint, stepping onto the train just before the doors close. I stop to catch my breath as the train pulls away.
As I walk through the train to find a seat, I feel great. I recall a time when I missed the train after a huge sprint. The sprint made me so sick that I almost vomited. That was the day that I resolved to step up my cardio fitness.
I collapse in my seat, feeling grateful for my app that tells me the track, for no lines at the ticket machines, and for my own resolve to step up my fitness.
Look at how far I’ve come! I sprinted to the train, took time to get a ticket first, and still made the train in time! I am standing. I am not keeled over from the sprint! I did it all! Yay for me!
The conductor comes to take my ticket. I reach into the pocket of my bag to pull out my ticket. Only, it’s not a ticket.
It’s a receipt. I am confused. What happened to my ticket?
I look up at the conductor. “I just had it,” I explain. He tells me he will come back.
I look in the pocket of my bag for the ticket. Nothing. Just this receipt.
As I look at it more closely, I notice the details. This receipt printed at 11:35 am. Too early. The total was $19.50, for a round trip ticket. That’s not right. The receipt shows the last 4 digits of the credit card. These are not the last four digits of my credit card.
I close my eyes and take myself back to the ticket machine at Grand Central. I replay my actions. I am tapping on the screen. Swiping my credit card. Waiting for the ticket to print as I put away my card. Taking the ticket from the machine. Clutching it in my hand as I start to sprint away. Running towards the track with the ticket in my hand. I feel my hand slip the the ticket into the front inside pocket of my bag, behind my phone.
I saw it drop into the little window before I reached in to take it. Didn’t I?
I hear a little voice inside me.
Looks like you didn’t quite do it all.
What will I tell the conductor when he returns? Will he require me to buy a new ticket? Will he force me to pay the extra charge for buying the ticket on the train? How much will this mistake cost me?
I feel my heart rate increase. It starts to drop down to my stomach. My chest tightens. The familiar signs of a “flight or fight” response. Here we go.
Suddenly, a new voice:
STOP! Not today.
I inhale deeply. Exhale.
The physical manifestations of panic mode are real. I can feel my heart beating faster even as I try to slow my breathing. I have read enough to know that whatever is being reflected externally starts internally. I have taken enough personal development courses to know that my physical response is being triggered by an emotional response.
I get present. Today I’m going to take a new path. I will not react to my fear. I will open the box and examine it.
What’s the worst case scenario?
I will need to buy a new ticket on the train, at the on-board rate. It will cost more money. It will be like throwing out the money I just spent.
A waste of money? Definitely.
Something about which I should expend energy worrying? Absolutely not.
I do not like being wasteful. I value my money. But in the grand scheme of a week’s worth of expenses, this is not something worthy of a panic response. I can cut out a juice this week. I can eat out one day less. This is not a big deal.
My heart is still beating fast.
This isn’t about the money.
Yeah, it never is, is it? That would be too easy.
What do you really fear?
I close my eyes for a moment as I play out the scenario. The conductor will return soon and ask for my ticket. What will I tell him?
I will tell him the truth, of course: that in my haste to make the train, I thought I grabbed the ticket but instead I grabbed the receipt that was in the machine. I will show him the receipt.
Do you expect him to believe you? The receipt isn’t even yours. If he asks to see your credit card, he will see that the numbers don’t match.
I fear he won’t believe me.
But I have evidence! The charge for my ticket, reflected in my American Express app on my iPhone. (Grateful for technology.) I will show him proof!
I inhale. I exhale. My heart rate begins to slow but my chest is still constricted. I feel unsettled.
We are not done here.
Really? What else?
I imagine overhearing another person telling this story to the conductor. What would I think?
My first thought would likely be “that person is a liar who is trying to cheat the system and avoid paying.” It wouldn’t occur to me, at least at first, to consider that the story could be true.
I am sad to admit this to myself. It is harsh and judgmental. I do not like this part of myself. It is not who I want to be. It is not who I believe I am in my heart. I am working hard to become a person who leads with compassion and empathy. I am making progress. But that ugly part still sometimes surfaces.
And in this, I find my fear: that others are just like me.
I fear being viewed as a liar and cheater. That makes sense. I take pains to be straightforward and honest with people. Sometimes too honest. I want others to see that. I want them to see me for who I really am.
Wow. There it is:
I want people to see me for who I am.
At my core. Beneath the layers of masks. The good parts of me. The parts that sometimes get buried deep, because I act from a place of fear instead of from a place of love and trust.
Suddenly, I realize that this fear – the fear that I won’t be seen for who I am – is rooted in my ego.
Buried in my subconscious, it’s a thought that sounds like this:
If I – having immersed myself in personal development and spiritual practice – can find myself so easily jumping to judgment about others, how can I expect others not to rush to the same judgment?
After all, here I sit, waiting for the conductor, ready to tell my story, and in the undercurrent of my thoughts is a running stream of judgment:
You should have left more time.
Why do you always put yourself in a situation where you are rushing?
How do you leave the ticket in the machine? How does that even happen?
See, you didn’t do it all.
I fear that others will judge me the way I judge myself.
Why wouldn’t they? Don’t I set the tone for how I should be treated? How can I expect them to be gracious to me, when I cannot be gracious to myself? How can I expect them to show compassion to me, when I cannot show compassion to myself?
The conductor returns. I explain what happened. Rushing. Running. Stopping to get the ticket. Taking what I thought was the ticket, only to discover that it was a receipt for someone else’s purchase. I hand him the receipt that I pulled from the machine, and offer to show him my evidence of my purchase.
He looks at me, clutching my iPhone. Ready to show him my proof that I am not a liar. My eyes plead with him to see that I am not trying to cheat the system. They beg him to see me for who I am.
“Where are you going?” he asks.
He nods his head. He takes the receipt I hand him and studies it. He hands the receipt back to me. This receipt from another person’s purchase.
Just like that.
He doesn’t ask to see my proof.
He doesn’t say “that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard someone do.”
He doesn’t say “next time leave yourself more time.”
He doesn’t pass judgment.
He shows me compassion.
He shows me grace.
He shows me that it’s okay to trust.
I look him in the eye, and say the only thing I can say in that moment.
For believing me. For seeing me for who I am. For not making me buy a new ticket.
And for reminding me that our teachers are all around us.