MY NIGHT AT NEW YORK PENN STATION WITH THE HOMELESS
Where is the gift in this?
It was midnight US Eastern time, however my mind and body told me the time was 5 a.m. as I had just landed in New York from Iceland. I was on my way to Washington DC where I was booked to speak at the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) National Conference the following morning. My trip had not exactly started as planned. It started with a delayed arrival from Iceland, causing me to lose my connecting flight. My only option to make it to Washington DC in time for my speaking engagements was to take the train. The second flip…mistake… event, whatever we want to call it, to delay my trip, was when I missed the train station I was supposed to go to catch my train to Washington D.C.
Tired and extremely frustrated at myself for making that mistake, finally I arrived at Penn Station, only to find out that I had missed the midnight train to Washington D.C. and that the next train was not expected to depart till 4 a.m. that morning. With my train ticket in one hand, my luggage in the other, I sat down in the main entrance hall of Penn Station, still could not believe I had screwed things up so badly. As I thought about my situation, my 4 hour wait ahead, my concern to be able to deliver my speech the following day, arriving in DC only few hours before I should be on stage, a question popped up in my mind, several times. The question was: ”Runa, where is the gift in this moment?” Yeah, well, it sounded more like “Where is the so called gift in this moment?”
As I tried to come to terms with my situation and figure out “the gift in that moment” a group of police officers entered the main hall at Penn Station and asked everybody to evacuate the building. They were ready to close the building for the night. As I looked around, I realized I was sitting with the homeless people of New York, and the police were escorting everybody out of the station. People slowly moved out of the station. I was terrified… “WHAT!? It’s cold and dark and I don’t have any place to go to in New York! How am I going to catch the 4 a.m. train if I’m not even allowed to be inside Penn Station?” I turned to one of the police officer with my question, and he guided me to wait in a special waiting room by the platform. “Uff… “That was a relief I thought. Then I looked around me, I noticed that many of my “new friends” of New York (the homeless people) knew about the waiting rooms and accompanied me into the warm waiting-room.
As they entered the waiting room, they quietly lay on the wooden benches (which all had a sign saying only for people with valid train tickets) and fell asleep. I however was determined that despite the time difference and long travel, I was going to stay wide awake till my train would arrive. Still frustrated…and amazed by this situation I was in, I kept asking myself the question: “Where is the gift in this? Where is the gift in this situation? Why am I here?”
The night came, and soon I noticed there was a certain pattern of activities that took place inside that waiting room. My new homeless friends who had found a place to sleep around me, only got about 1 hour of sleep, as the police officers came regularly and quietly touched their shoulder… the sleepy homeless person looked up… quietly stood up and moved out… as this happened, a new homeless person came into my waiting room… fell asleep, and in about 1 hour a pair of two police officers entered… quietly touched their shoulders… and the same routine started.
As I watched this routine of quiet work from the police officers, and quiet acceptance from the homeless the biggest, most amazing, overwhelming “gift in the moment” appeared to me. I felt the feeling of respect. Deep meaningful respect. I felt the respect that was in the air. I felt the respect the police officers (who were just doing their jobs) showed the homeless, despite their situation, a respect that was clearly reciprocated by the homeless. This experience gave me a new feeling of how we are all connected and told me how all human beings, in all aspects of life have deep desire to give respect and be respected.
My night at New York Penn Station was a true gift. It made me vulnerable, and at the same time deeply grateful for being able to witness and feel the mutual respect between human beings, a mutual respect which is so fundamentally important in human relations.