A Remarkable Winter Commute

8

On a very cold night I was riding home from work on my daily commute on the uptown four train in the city. Near my last stop I heard a voice asking for money and looked up. It was a white man wearing a sweat shirt in his late 20s making a speech as I so often hear on the trains. He was insufficiently dressed for this cold snap and had the looks and cadence of a substance abuser. This brought out the New York cynic in me. Every day people get on the train asking for money. I tend to give food like a granola bar when I am carrying one because I know that its not going to substance abuse. But this was a day I didn’t have one. I looked back down at the paper I was reading. I heard him tell everyone he was a felon just out of prison having a hard time making ends meet. He said he was just trying to stay on the right side of the law but needed money to buy food and a coat in this extremely frigid weather.

The lady sitting next to me gave him a dollar. To my right I noticed a man leaning against a pole in the center of the subway car reaching in his pockets fumbling. He was a handsome well dressed Hispanic man also in his 20s with a smart phone in his hand. As he was going through his pockets, the other man started walking away and he called out to him to come back. I figured that he had gotten some change from his pocket that he was about to give to this man.  As the man returned, the man leaning up against the pole took off his coat and gave it to him. The man had been reaching in his pockets to empty them so he could give his coat away.

The train suddenly became silent as we all realized that we had witnessed something quite rare and exceptional. “You need it more than me,” was all he said as he handed over the new coat. The man put on the coat over his sweat shirt, nodded, and left. After he was off the train, the other man who was now coatless on the cold train said, “It’s not about whether he was telling the truth or not. It’s about who you are.”

Everyone there was sitting in a stunned silence reflecting on what just happened. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and I can tell you that it was pretty overwhelming and emotional. You could see that on everyone’s face. This was a selfless act. No one on the train knew him. He was traveling alone like most of the rest of us, so we were aware he wasn’t doing this to show off. It was genuine.  This was a man who saw someone in trouble and acted on it while ignoring the consequences.

As he reached his stop I got up and shook his hand and asked him his name. “Felix,” he said. “I’m going to be a pastor and set up my own congregation in the South.” I smiled.

When I reached my stop and walked away in my warm winter coat I couldn’t help but think about what he just did. I’ll never know if the man who got the coat was telling the truth or not. Whether he would wear it or pawn it. It’s New York and hustling is an art here. But I do know that the act of giving up the coat off your back in frigid weather to help a stranger deserves huge respect. I wish I could have captured it on video and posted it so that Felix could have received the recognition he deserved. I’m sure that if I had asked Felix, he would have said that the act of giving was all the recognition he could ever want. He was something special. This was a true hero.

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About Author

Jason Arthur Sapan, a resident of Greenburgh, is one of the pioneers of 3D laser holography and is the founder of the Holographic Studios in Manhattan. He has taught classes at major universities. Additionally, he works as a background actor on television and film. For a decade, he was co-chair of the citizen's budget committee of the Ardsley School District. Sapan is also an avid sailor, docking his boat in Tarrytown. At home, he grows an organic garden and enjoys the culinary arts.

8 Comments

  1. Hello Mr. Sapan,
    If you were merely “inspired” and not moved to action, and if your regret was that you could not exploit the unselfish action of another by making a video, and if gaining attention for yourself by writing made you feel better, then I suggest that this is really “just a story” to you.

    • Thank you Don for the cynicism. It just makes me remember a time many years ago when I was volunteering and felt unappreciated. A woman who was also there smiled and simply said, “No good deed goes unpunished.” At the time I was surprised by the response, but over time I came to understand. Like Felix in the story, you can’t expect understanding for what you do. You just do it. What that means, is that often people will look to find reasons to judge you. When those of us who post stories do so, we do it in much the same manner as a photographer who takes pictures of things that feel relevant. Sharing what you witness is what we humans do. Since the time of drawing images on the walls of caves to putting them on the walls of social media, it is part of who we are. And just like beauty, its merits are in the eyes of the beholders. A story is meant to share an experience. How it is interpreted tends to define the person defining it. You don’t know me but you feel free to judge me because I shared an experience that was meaningful to me. I don’t know you so I won’t respond in kind. But here is something I will share with you. I have on many occasions donated my time and services to help people in need, both through organizations and individually. I have awoken early many mornings to feed the homeless and driven many times to the Rockaways to assist those whose home were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Only a handful of people know any of this. Like Felix, I wasn’t doing it for attention. It just seemed like the right thing. When I witnessed what Felix had done, I realized that he was acting above and beyond the call of duty. It was beyond anything I would have done. It was extraordinary. His story deserved to be known. That was my motivation. It wasn’t just a story. Maybe that’s all it was to you, but it was more to me.

      • Michael Gerzevitz on

        I have known Jason for many years. He was kind and generous when I first moved to NYC to attend film school around the corner from his lab. I have since moved on in my life and we had a gap in our comms. We just reconnected recently and it was good to see how his life has changed and also remains the same. He is gracious with his time – one of our most valuable assets – to engage my questions about holography, life in New York and philosophy. His door and couch was frequently available during my youthful days new to the city. More than any other “business” I have encountered. The scathing vitriol yielded by you – Dan – show just how sad a place the internet can be where complete strangers can safely criticize the actions of others without any background knowledge or courage to look someone in the eye while you lambast them. I don’t know you Dan but I do know the writings of a coward when I read them. Go find some other parade to piss on Dan. You are not welcome here.

      • You Dan are like the media of today, print whatever you want without doing any research and by far not knowing what your talking about… Let me ask you just one question, do you know Mr. Sapan, if not just stop by his place at 240 east 26th street and have a chat….. You’ll regret every word you printed …

    • Don, you have the wrong guy here. I have known Jason for years and have seen first hand the many kindnesses he has performed. Rather than call attention to one of his good deeds, he has called our attention to one performed by another person. Sorry Don, but I find that commendable.

  2. Jason, your sharing of that which moved you touched me. You have every right to share your experience, and know that your doing so inspired me.

    The criticism you received tells more about the writer than it does about you. It saddens me that you were attacked in such a way for sharing your heart. Please don’t allow the negativity to change your kind heart.

  3. Unfortunately, we tend to hear negative comments much more clearly and loudly that those that are positive. As an outsider, I see the score as being Trolls:1 and Ethical commenters:3. This unpleasant reader may just be congenitally nasty and bitter but what I think is more likely is that your piece made him uncomfortable because he realizes he is a failure ar recognizing the goodness and selflessness of others while you celebrated it so eloquently in your piece. He accuses you of trying to be big and grand because he is so small and petty. Bearing witness to a selfless act of kindness is a good way to remind us to try to remember to be our brother’s keepers whenever an opportunity arises and act compassionately. You were right and the Troll is wrong and has likely scuttled back under his bridge waiting for the next time to pop out and go after someone else writing, doing or saying the right thing. You win, hands down!

  4. This Don has a very closed mind. Instead of being touched by the goodness of others he found a way to twist it out of shape.
    I missed this original posting but what Dan achieved was a reprinting so that even more people can be touched by the kindness you were privileged to witness and testify to.
    It is a beautiful rendition, akin to a photo or video. We get to revel in viewing it through your eyes. Keep writing Jason. I always read every word and I have personally experienced the generosity of your time, knowledge, and the peaceful nature of your being.
    Dan, you’re a snake…with an apple in your mouth. We’re not biting!!!

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