Last weekend, I met up with Yuko for a 5 miles race to kick off the famous New York marathon in Central Park. The air was crisp and cold; the leaves have started turning colors. I haven't seen Yuko in a while - she was busy with the new job and I with applications. It was good to catch up - we talked about a friend's upcoming wedding, Stuyvesant Town and the East Village life I have not frequented since moving out. We of course talked about Yuko's love life and a recent disappointment. I tried to encourage her but knew that when one was waiting, any wait no matter no short was excruciating. We talked about the loneliness of the city - one easily got lost in such a big place. But it will be okay, we consoled each other, because we are young, and the night is young.
The next day, on my way to lunch, I saw an old man collapsing on 5th Ave. He was old, wearing a beige jacket and a casket that reminded me of my grandfather. I immediately ran over and tried to help him up. But his legs were weak, so another passerby and I lay him down on the pavement. Another passerby called 911. We took off our coats and layered them on his panting chest to shield away the October wind. "I'm okay, I'm okay", he kept repeating in weak voice. He was waiting for the bus to go back to Brooklyn, he said, after getting a root canal done at the dentist. His wife had insisted that he brought the cellphone but he forgot, he shook his head regretfully. His wife was always right. He was eighty-five and was wearing a pace maker to support his heart.
The lady who had called 911 kneeled down to keep him conversing, her hands holding his fragile fingers. I waited with her till the police and ambulance came, yet didn't know what else to do other than watching his gentle smiles and flock of white hair ruffling in the wind. A few minutes later, a firetruck arrived with medical workers and a load of equipment. Seeing that the old man was now in good hands, we gathered back our coats and slowly departed.
Ten minutes later, when I circled back to 5th Ave after getting lunch, the crew was gone. I hoped they had taken him to a hospital and that he was okay. They probably had called his wife, an old lady somewhere in Brooklyn, waiting at the lunch table for her husband. My chest gripped at the thought of her hurrying down the subway to come to him, her unsteady steps and white hair in the wind.
By the time I told Mugg the story, I was half in tears for no reason. Old people often have that effect on me and my easily teary eyes. They remind me of endurance and wisdom, at the same time fragility. And how strangely, as I thought of the old man, I was instantly thinking of speeding down the Lower Loop of Central Park towards the finish line, with golden leaves and spots of sunlight shining over my head. I often wonder, aside from the endorphin, why New Yorkers are so obsessed with the run. Now it is clear to me - the run is to commemorate the fleeting joy of youth, to hold it in your feet just a panting breath further, and to feel it expanding in your chest at the finish line.