One day, in the week before Christmas, Phil entered the subway car on his way home and, as a veteran rider, immediately sensed something was off: only one passenger in the car, a drunken, disheveled man, ranting and cursing and flailing his arms against the world.
Phil felt tension in the air. Then he noticed a group of passengers huddled at one end of the car, cringing in fear. Phil went right over to the man, sat down, put his arm around the man’s shoulders and began to sing. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas ...”
The man slowly calmed down, and soon he was singing along with Phil, “where the treetops glisten, and children listen ...”
And then, just as slowly, the passengers at the end of the car started drifting toward Phil and the man, gathered around them and joined in, singing, “with every Christmas card I write ...” And they all kept belting out holiday songs as the train barreled northward toward the Bronx.
These people had never known each other before, and now they were singing and laughing and hugging, if only for this brief moment in time. They were so connected that some riders chose to stay on the train past their stops .
The troubled man brightened; he seemed to be feeling part of something larger than himself. And all it took was an arm around the shoulders, a familiar song, a gathering of humanity and, above all, a man named Phil.
Twin Cities writing coach Gary Gilson, who teaches journalism at Colorado College, can be reached through writebetterwithgary.com.