Matins

At a certain time of year, around November after the time change, early morning immigrants to Manhattan see the light. As they stumble out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal and head to the east, it is as if the sun is rising like a monster from the sea. In Midtown the streets run east-west and the avenues north-south. I trip out onto Eighth Avenue and have to make my way to Madison, and the entire walk is facing into the unrelenting sun. You might think at 7 a.m. this should be no great challenge, but then you would betray the fact that you don’t commute in early. Hundreds of people pour in a human stream out of the Port Authority and head in all directions, many of them east. The streets are crowded and you literally can’t see what’s in front of you. You are, in the words of a young Bruce Springsteen, “blinded by the light.” I’ve watched in fascination as this happens for the past four years now. It isn’t the much touted “Manhattanhenge,” but simply the angle of the sun at this latitude at this time of day. It may be fun for a few minutes, but then you realize how dangerous it might be.

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One of the most basic elements of religion is care for others. Indeed, some religions suggest that you should treat others as more important than yourself. When I was growing up I was taught to think of things from somebody else’s perspective: if you were in that position, would you want someone to do that to you? It’s a message I took to heart and to this day I can’t pass a homeless person without a backstab of guilt for not pulling out my wallet and dropping a dollar or two into their outstretched hands. Having been on the receiving end of a pink slip more than once, I can easily imagine being there. Seeing from another person’s perspective can be dangerous. Not considering that perspective can be even worse.

Those out and about at 7 a.m. are go-getters. Climbers. They get to work early. Some, no doubt, stay late as well. The person walking west has the sun at his or her back. The street in front of them is brilliantly illuminated but not blinding. How many times I’ve nearly collided with them because they don’t realize that those of us going east just can’t see. You have to step into the shadow of a banner or awning or streetlight post just to get a nanosecond of relief and make sure you’re not about to step into a hazard like an open freight door. The photo doesn’t do it justice because if it were truly to show what I see, you’d see nothing at all. Raised as I was I can’t help but think of the beast rising from the sea, and the woman clothed with the sun. And the homeless being awoken by beams far too bright after a night on the streets.

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