On the subway

A middle-aged man wearing all grey and eating a lollipop sat across from me on the subway today.  After a few minutes he started speaking to me, in a gently frustrated voice.

“I make a lot of money,” he said, “But I don’t spend any of it.”   I met his glance and he looked away, but kept talking.

“You tell me you have health problems,” he said, “And then you ask me for a cigarette.  I tell you I don’t have one and you reach into the ash tray for a butt and ask me for a light.  Then you show me the scar on your chest where you had surgery on your lungs.  So what am I supposed to think?”

He went on for the rest of the trip, popping the lollipop into his mouth between pronouncements.  I was struck by how he addressed me so directly as “You.”  Did he think I was someone else?  Or was it Martin Buber’s “Thou,” the I reaching out to find a connection with the you, with another soul, another being.  He wasn’t well, obviously; was either mentally ill or mentally handicapped.  Maybe he was speaking from a concept of the world in which there weren’t many different people, but only him and “you;” the other, the “not me” of the eyes that met his.  Or maybe the “you” was — as Buber conceived it to be — God, and his conversation was not with me or with his smoking friend, but with the supernatural other to whom he was trying to find a connection.

“Seek,” said Jesus, “And you will find.”  If the deepest cry of our heart is to “you” then it makes sense that we would keep saying “you” until we found the One who is the ultimate YOU, the ultimate other, the ultimate connection that Augustine says we were made for.  In fact, Augustine too says, “you,” not “he.”  It is that second person tense that makes his book “The Confessions,” and not “The Doctrine of St. Augustine.”  “We were made for YOU,” he says, “And our hearts are restless untill they find rest in YOU.”

To the grey clad man on the bus, and to all of us searching for YOU, I pray that YOU would find us.


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