Monday, April 16, 2007

A man named Skyler

We were on the wrong train.

Back from Rabbi Jacobson's Wednesday night class in the city, the late night subway changes had caught me and my brother off guard. We were on the number three train which usually stops at Kingston. But it was not stopping there tonight. We were told that the four was, so we knew we had to switch trains. So, fine. Simple. Train stops. We exit. We wait on platform. The four train arrives. We get on. We resume journey.

That is until we realized that this train was going uptown, the opposite direction of where we needed to go. We must have been tired or lost in conversation, and just naturally taken the next train that arrived without looking. The time in between stops is very long at this hour. We were a little giddy, and my brother started saying out loud in a mock cry for help, "Nooo...we're on the wrong train, we're on the wrong train..."

I laughed and looked around. There were only a few people left in the subway car, and all of them looked totally lifeless.

Except one guy who suddenly piped up from his nestled position in the corner. He was an older black man. With eyes wide and his voice strong but delicate, he said, "You on da right train."

We were eager to hear those words. Saadya responded, "Yea? We're on the right train?"

"Yea, man," said the black man confidently, “The shul. Get off at the next stop, then switch to the four downtown. You’re goin' to seven seventy.” It was not a question, but a statement.

We smiled and got closer to the man.

Saadya asked, "You knew the Rebbe, ah?"

"Knew the Rebbe?” the man questioned Saadya’s wording, "I know the Rebbe.”

Saadya quickly extended his hand and asked him his name.

His name was Skyler. He shook Saadya's hand naturally, without hesitating.

Saadya inquired, "How do you know the Rebbe?"

"We used to go for dollars. We were close. Sure, I know the Rebbe.”

He said it like, How can you not know the Rebbe?

He continued, “I got the Rebbe's picture with me everywhere."

And with that, he whipped out his wallet, and went searching. By this time, Saadya had his arm around the sweet older man, both squeezed on the double seat near the sliding doors. Skyler, who had returned Saadya's gesture and had his arm around him as well, went flipping through his I.D., business cards, and all sorts of things that came flying out, with no picture of the Rebbe.

He didn't seem to notice that all his stuff was flying. He was on a mission.

"It's here..." he was saying as he frantically searched, "it's here alright..."

And indeed, it was. After both his and Saadya's lap were laden with all sorts of wallet belongings, Skyler emerged from his hunt with a yellow Moshiach card, with the Rebbe's smiling face and waving hand.

Skyler had a very nonchalant air about him, but was excited to show the small and slightly wrinkled picture of a man he clearly knew and admired. He smiled proudly for a picture before he had to leave.

I believe he called Saadya “brutha” as he left - a term that, for once, seemed particularly fitting. As the train started moving and I could still see Skyler making his way out of the platform, I realized that Skyler had been wearing something that didn't strike me as popular in his community - a black hat.

When we got off the train, I had tears in my eyes. I turned to Saadya and said, "We were definitely on the right train."

A rare glimpse into the Rebbe's unique following is very recharging. It takes some unique reminders to realize that the Rebbe had an influence far greater than, not only his immediate surrounding, but, his seemingly specific community. The Rebbe's leadership raises the bar for what's surprising or seemingly out of place. As we learned that night, it's not all that crazy to feel close to the Rebbe, even if you happen to be a quirky-late-night-subway-riding-black-man named Skyler.

[ The Skyler action shots ]


the sabra said...

chills i have

Anonymous said...

My borther and I. not me and my brother.

chanie said...

Looks like someone took over as editor. Gorgeous post, though.

Anonymous said...

love it mim

batya shalhevet

litzo said...

chanie-- just discovered your blog(s). care to identify yourself?

Shloimy said...

I haven't seen this post yet. Im sure it's great though. Eager and awaiting...

Shloim said...

Wow Mim, wow! I'm sitting here, just finished reading, and with tear-filled eyes trying to comment.
When we got off the train, I had tears in my eyes. I turned to Saadya and said, "We were definitely on the right train."

I started getting teary eyes right about there. Wow. Powerful post Mim. What can I say? As usual, right!

The post was so beautifully expressed and the story was painted to real that I was just starting think "how could this have happened?" Then I scrolled down to the pictures. Wow. Those pictures were like a gift. This was literally and figuratively a moving post.

Keep em' coming. I'll be waiting at hilltop for another post.

chang said...

fabuloso storyoso!!
very, very, very nice mini.
well, that was a refreshing morning read.
time for breakfast.
care to join?

jackie said...

That's such a touching story!

Anonymous said...

how much crack did this whacko buy with the dollars he got from the wannabe messiah?????

Mommy said...

Mimi, I was deeply touched to tears by this beautiful story!

The Rebbe and the power of his true Chassidim connecting with the beautiful world that we live in. The ripple effect is far greater than we know and of course the beautiful Hashgacha that we are all touched by every minute of our lives.

A proud Mommy!

P.S "Busted" Stay off the subway at night! :)

Anonymous said...


mim i didnt tell you
but this story inspired me to
do something for another person;
on the train actually :),that
act-ripple effect-is still felt
within creation.

batya shalhevet

Chaia Kessler said...

sometimes its hard to find inspiration in the world around us.....things go wrong and how often can we really see the good in it?

Anonymous said...

very moving article!!