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A Brief Guide to Encountering a Weeping Person in Public in NYC

A note on our responsibility to each other.

(Zhivko Minkov / Unsplash)

Recently, I came across a version of a post that tends to be written and shared with some regularity by people with either poor manners or a vastly inflated sense of self-regard: The "I-comforted-a-sad-stranger-in-the-big-city" post. In this particular instance, a person riding the uptown 6 one evening sat next to a crying woman. Recalling a time the author themselves had been crying on the subway, the protagonist removed their headphones and asked if they could give the woman—who, as it turned out, had an aunt die recently—a hug. The pair embraced; some comforting words were exchanged. “This woman needed help, and I was here for her, stranger to stranger,” the author wrote. “Ny proud, people, this is what we do.” 

As the weather turns grim, daylight barely lasts the length of a work day, and a chain of winter holidays promises to agitate even the most stable New Yorker's nerves, the number of people crying on the subway or on a park bench or while shuffling down the street is likely to increase—and I’d like to remind the people of New York City that this hugging and chatting business is usually not, in fact, what we do. 

One of the truest and most sublime rights we possess in a trash-strewn city of 8.5 million is to cry in public unbothered, ideally next to a bottle of piss or over the bone-crunching sound of an elevated train. It’s a ritual to be respected—in most cases, the perfect collective anonymity of the city offers a more private weeping experience than in an apartment or office, where you might encounter a person who feels compelled to ask how they might help. In extreme cases, when it’s possible someone is experiencing such a wave of preventable agitation or grief you feel moved to alleviate it in some way there is only one course of action: You ask that person, briefly and politely, if they’re good.

It is my personal opinion that if you encounter a crying person on the train, your sole responsibility as a New Yorker is to do something sort of psycho in their general vicinity in order to compound the weepers’ sorrow and make a great story later on. There’s something poetic and deeply affirming about having a bad time surrounded by weirdos and/or filth. On one occasion, I cried next to an insufferable bachelor party in Midtown as men in mirrored sunglasses detailed last night's grotesque exploits. A friend of mine cried into a plate of mozzarella sticks at the Applebees in Downtown Brooklyn at 11:00 in the morning to a Fiona Apple song. No one asked for a hug because it would have been obscene, an aberration in the therapeutic practice of feeling sad and sorry for yourself in a place that will continue churning at a rapid clip no matter how you, an insignificant speck, happen to feel.

I’m not usually a crier but I had a particularly bad day a few months back. I cried on the walk to the subway, and on a 40-minute subway ride down to Lefferts, and for an excruciating 20 minutes as I tried to find a six-pack to bring to a friend’s apartment in a part of the neighborhood where literally all the bodegas were halal. I was blessedly ignored by the several hundred people who saw me that afternoon, most of whom never even glanced at my face. And when I finally found a place to purchase a few Coronas, the cashier looked at me and asked quite gruffly if I was alright. I told him, naturally, I was fine.  

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