I left my office tonight and saw the same man I see often, sitting underneath the scaffolding outside the door. He's in a wheelchair. The first time I saw him, he was grappling for his dropped cell phone. This time a woman, a stranger, was helping him with his sleeve. I couldn't really see what she was doing, but I heard her say, Is that better? His face is partially paralyzed so he can't talk very well, but he mumbled something in response. He was bundled up, and I wondered who had helped him dress. I thought about goodness.
In my work neighborhood there is a Dunkin' Donuts with a mirror on one side that runs the entire length of the space. I go in every morning and spend three dollars and 48 cents on a coffee and an orange juice, plus tax. I don't like to think about how much money that really is, or how I never used to drink coffee. There is a Latino woman who works the register. Sometimes she remembers my order before I say it, and sometimes she smiles. Some mornings she does neither of those things, but every morning she's there.
The other day as I was leaving an older man was coming in. I let him in first, and in passing I smiled at him and said good morning. The blue sky was making me feel friendlier. As I went out, I caught a glimpse of him in that long mirror. He had whipped around and I saw his face following me, stunned. I think he had forgotten what good morning sounded like coming out of a complete stranger.
The thing about a city is that it embodies all the people in it. It is only as good or as bad as the eyes that see it. It contains the properties of the people who observe it. The thing about a city is that it is just like everything else.