Dispatch from the Department of Synchronicity
Dateline: New York City
As I stood on the platform waiting for the uptown Q train on a Saturday afternoon in August, I couldn’t help but think about my mother. That’s not least bit unusual. My mother, who died about a year and a half ago, loved everything about her city, from the Met, to the Bowery, from the corner deli where she bought her New York Times and bouquets of flowers to the finest restaurants, and from the soaring architecture to the lawns of Central Park—and even the subway on a sweltering summer afternoon.
I remembered how my mom would look toward the direction the train would be coming from, and watch for the first glimpse of light that would signal that a train was approaching in the distance. She said she love watching for that little shadow of light in the dark tunnel. It was as if she were imparting to me her philosophy of life. She once told me she was a closet optimist; that despite her frequent and vocal worries, neuroses, and anxieties, that deep down, she secretly expected the best.
Another thing I remembered about her just then, was how my beautiful, stylish, cultured, and elegant mother loved to look into the cement cavern of the subway tracks, and peer into the little caves made by the platform overhang, searching for rats. We made a game—no a competition—of it. As we waited for the train that would take us to a museum or botanical garden or favorite store, we’d look for rats in the subway tracks, and whichever one of us saw one first would shout it out and we would get a strange rush of glee from the sighting.
So, as I waited for the Q train the other day, I sent a little hello up to my Mom in Heaven, and asked her to let me see a rat. Instead, I looked to my left and saw the subway’s light sweeping the walls of the tunnel, and then the train appeared, thundering into the steaming station, and I got onboard.
I was headed uptown where I’d meet my brother for a cup of iced coffee, followed by dinner with my daughter, and then to a Broadway show.
Hours later, after the show, there was a cool breeze blowing, so rather than take the subway I walked back downtown. As I crossed Union Square, just before midnight, I jumped as something scurried across my path, not six inches from my sandaled feet. I’d been on the phone with my boyfriend, who was back home in Massachusetts, when I squealed and reported: “A mouse just ran right in front of me!”
“Sweetie, you’re in New York City, are you sure it wasn’t a rat?” he asked. Well, I conceded it was pretty big for a mouse. Two women sitting on a bench nearby, and who were openly laughing at my reaction, nodded in affirmation. It was a rat, they agreed.
I forgave myself for not immediately identifying the rodent for what it was. After all, other than the ones I’d seen in the subway with my mother (at a safe distance several feet below the platform) I hadn’t encountered a rat on the streets of New York—or anywhere else, thankfully—in decades.
But in all the fun and excitement of the evening, and in the hours that transpired since my subway ride that afternoon, I’d forgotten all about my little prayer to my mother. And it wasn’t until I was tucked into bed an hour or so later, that I realized the rat that ran so close as to almost tickle my toes, was my mother’s doing. She’d sent that rat to me, as her way of winking down from heaven.
At least, that’s what I choose to believe; the same way my mother chose to believe in the hope heralded by the light of a train in a subway tunnel, and which stood in for her secret store of optimism. Or maybe it’s just my way of finding beauty in the unlikeliest of places, like my mother did, when she insisted on loving every inch of her city, rats and all.
Copyright 2016 Tzivia Gover