During my many rides on the New York City subway, I’ve been entertained by saxaphonists, mariachi bands, do-wop singers, acrobats swinging from handrails, conga players, expert finger snappers, and poets, to name a few. I once saw a man set up a folding chair in a train and play Bach’s Suite No.1 in G Major on the cello; I’ve filmed teenage boys using themselves as percussion instruments, slapping their bodies and legs in a syncopated rhythm. These itinerant performers always seem like miracles of the creative spirit: risking, putting themselves ‘out there’ right in the public view in often very imaginative ways, to make money, further a dream, be heard.
On a recent subway ride, there was no one performing and nothing particularly interesting going on: just a semi-crowded train making its way across three boroughs, taking on passengers and dropping them off. Out of nowhere, a thought came: This is a wonder, a miracle of sorts. Right now, a brilliant mechanical invention is transporting people comfortably underground. Astonishing. I came home and looked up ‘miracle’: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin miraculum, from Latin, a wonder, marvel, from mirari to wonder at, marvel, be astonished.
Since then, I’ve made a little practice of viewing the moment as a wonder. It has a curiously transformative effect: of making things look brighter, more valuable and surprising, a gift that can temper difficulties and sadness.
It can be done anywhere at any time, even in on the subway.
This small subway epiphany also led also to the discovery of photographer Gueorgui Pinkhassov‘s work for Magnum. The image above, taken in the NYC Subway on Halloween 2001, reveals a woman’s tutu peeping out from her coat, among the bystanders…a case in point.
It is reminiscent of Louis. C.K.’s great rant/revelation “Everything is so amazing…” The guy’s got serious problems and has made some terrible mistakes. BUT his art form has some insightful messages. (Skip ahead to 2:35 to find this juiciest.)