Hello My Name Is…

by Karen Amster-Young

Did you read our update on the52weeks?  Check out what’s going on with the blog here.

This is a guest post from Jami Kelly. She is happily single, lives in New York City and is continuously getting “unstuck” doing amazing, interesting things. Jami’s last post for the52weeks covered some big ideas for getting unstuck and tomorrow she is off to Barcelona for some real adventures! Here, she demonstrates how the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 inspired her to move out of her comfort zone – even if it meant just behaving in a slightly different way…

“One day I jumped in a cab, late and in a bad mood, but I chatted with the driver and asked him how he was…And he said, ‘I’m fine — every day above ground is a good day for me.’ And I thought, Yeah, that’s true enough.” — Peggy Noonan, author- journalist

September 12, 2011

I boarded the subway downtown from the Upper East Side. I hurried to make it into the crowded car opposite the turnstile before the train pulled out. Generally, I try not to be one of those pushy New Yorkers but I was running very late. The doors were closing and I plowed through – right into a pack of teenage boys evidently on the verge of some school outing. “Oh great,” I said out loud. “Guess I picked the wrong car.”

I didn’t intend to come off as mean-spirited to the lively high school students and their anxiously alert teacher. Luckily, they didn’t take it that way. One boy — or should I say the young man closest to me said, “No, you picked the right car! I’m glad you’re here.” (I am not kidding he said this). “In fact,  I’ll even introduce myself. I’m Jonathan,” he said cheerily, as he extended his right hand.

The previous day’s event – a five-hour live televised memorial ceremony at the newly restored World Trade Center site which featured the still-grieving widows and children of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City – left us all revisiting where we were on that day ten years ago.

It’s true that after that horrible day, beginning on September 12, 2001, New Yorkers were friendlier to one another. With this spirit of collective remembrance in mind, I shook Jonathan’s hand as I said, “I’m Jami, nice to meet you Jonathan.” Not something that happens too often on a crowded subway car, especially on a Monday morning.

I can tell he was relieved that I reciprocated after he went out on a limb in front of all his buddies. To take it one step further, I asked my new train buddy, “Where are all of you headed?”

“To the Memorial,” he said.

Not Ground Zero. Not the World Trade Center site. The Memorial. The two reflecting pools at the very site where the towers once stood and where, just a day earlier, children traced names and placed roses into the letters etched into their granite frames. The place where a new building rises bigger and stronger as it climbs its way to a height of 1,776 feet. Jonathan and I chatted about how we had both watched the service from start to finish the previous day.

I don’t usually say hello to people on the subway. Like most harried New Yorkers, I look down at my newspaper or stare up at the advertisements. Anything but make eye contact. So when I thought about what I could do in the name of getting unstuck to contribute to Karen and Pam’s blog this week, I thought why not take a cue from Jonathan? When push came to shove, I wasn’t really looking forward to saying hello to a stranger on a subway —  a sure sign it would be moving out of my comfort zone.

September 13

I was one stop away from my destination when I remembered I was supposed to strike up a conversation with someone. . (I guess it wasn’t something I wanted to do or was used to). The person sitting next to me was buried deep in his BlackBerry. My stop was fast approaching so there was  no time to say anything, let alone figure out how to introduce myself. Then I cut myself some slack: The idea of the 52 Weeks is to do one thing new or different each week; I still had three days left to make a connection.

September 14

I told myself no excuses this time. I set up my own ground rules. It had to be someone sitting or standing next to me. This being New York, that person could be anyone —  just like the array of people from 93 countries who were taken too soon in the attacks. Maybe it would be Mayor Bloomberg, who  rides the same subway each morning on his way to City Hall – now that would be an introduction! Let’s face it:  it’s easy to have a two-second exchange with one of those kids selling M&M’s or a tourist who needed directions. But for this experiment — engaging in actual dialogue —  I had to prepare for outright rejection:  this is, after all, New York.  Maybe I should just work from home today and forget it. The three-day grace period I allowed myself  was starting to feel like a weight on my shoulders. I had to get it over with.  I had to see if the spirit of 9/11 would carry over ten years and three days after the attacks. I stood on the platform watching the digital countdown clock. How would my little 52 Week experiment turn out?

I didn’t account for iPods – lots of them –plugged into everyone’s ears (it’s difficult to introduce myself to someone who can’t hear me!). Then I saw her, standing against the far doors with plenty of room around her. No iPod, just a small, thin e-reader in her hand. Late twenties, pretty, blonde, casually chic in a low-keyed media professional kind of way. She would be the one. No time to think about it, otherwise I wouldn’t go through with it.

“How is that working for you?” I blurted out, not giving too much thought to my opening line. She glanced up, a bit taken aback, so I softened with “How do you like reading on that?” and then to allay any concern of my being a total weirdo, continued with “I’m thinking of getting one.” (which is true, thankfully!) It didn’t take her long to engage.

“Oh, I love it. I didn’t think I would but it’s so light and I can carry it with me anywhere.”

“What kind is it?”

“It’s a Kindle.”

“Can you read a newspaper on it?”

“Oh the pictures look great, yes.”

I was totally winging it. And then I remembered that the goal of this exercise was to truly introduce myself, not to just make casual conversation. So I went for it:

“I’m Jami.”

She could have nodded politely and gone back to her Kindle, waiting for the stalker chick to exit the train. Instead, looking pleased and without missing a beat, replied:

“I’m Courtney.” And THEN she added….

“Nice to meet you, Jami.”

Five words and mission accomplished! I had what I needed. I didn’t want to push it. I told her “I’ll let you get back to your reading.” Subtext – I’m really not a lunatic, I’m just trying to stick to my 52 Week list.

When she exited the train a few stops later, she looked at me and said “Have a nice day.”

“You too,” my new subway friend Courtney.

Contact! Again! This is easier than I thought. Now, who else can I talk to?

I was secure in the knowledge that although the world may have changed after 9/11, New Yorkers really do still share a sense of community. I can now comfortably return to burying my head in my newspaper during my morning commute. Or my new Kindle.

This Week’s “Getting Unstuck” Sticky Notes:

  • The post-9/11 spirit of community is alive and well. Take advantage of it. Look someone in the eye today.
  • If something – even the smallest of things – gives you trepidation, it’s probably worth doing.
  • Doing something new doesn’t have to be hard. It’s the stories we tell ourselves that hold us back.

And remember, just a smile can go a long way.

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commentLeave a Comment (8)  

categoryPosted: 09/22/11 1:08 PM

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig from Garden City NY September 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Great piece by Jami Kelly! It is like taking that vacation spirit (when you say hello to people that you don’t know all the time) and implementing it into every day life. Truth be told, I met the author over thirty years ago when I stopped by her freshman dorm room in an attempt to hook up with her roommate. The roommate was out, she was there….I said, “Hi, my name is Craig…..” We dated on and off, and off and on, for just under a decade and remain friends to this day. True story!

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Chris Gebhart September 22, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Really enjoyed the piece. I found myself laughing inside about “engaging in actual dialogue” on the subway and how terrified I was to do so in my NY years haha

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Mickey Sirowitz September 23, 2011 at 6:36 am

Bravo, Jami –
What an improved world it would be if each of us took your lead in reaching out to someone new.
Love your writing as well.
Have a great trip –
Mickey

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Iris L. September 23, 2011 at 9:58 am

Jami, I’m inspired by your willingness to take a chance. Why is that something so seemingly simple as an introduction can be so difficult? Even in a small New York suburb, such as the Westchester town I live in, where community should be more apparent, reaching out to new people can be easier said than done. Can’t wait to hear about your adventures in Spain!

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Amy September 23, 2011 at 6:52 pm

I know I am just happier when I put on my “happy face” and react in a friendly way to people around me. Why not just say hi and as my son used to say (when he was 5) “make a friend today”.

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Lindsay September 25, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Jami, I love this. I really enjoy the serendipity and random connections that can enhance our everyday lives. It makes every day like traveling whether in Spain or not 🙂 Congrats on brightening some days for people and letting us ride along with you.

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Dani September 26, 2011 at 6:32 pm

This piece really takes me back to my New York days. It took me years after moving away from the city to embrace that spirit of openness. It’s nice to know that some New Yorkers are breaking down those boundaries now and in response to the 9/11 anniversary and memorial. I really appreciate the way the author captures the spirit of the city. Though I don’t live there anymore, I do check in from time to time. The author’s piece makes me feel just that much closer, which I appreciate.

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Hannah September 28, 2011 at 11:04 am

I love reading about your adventures Jami. Isn’t it funny how much it takes for us sometimes to just say hello to another human being as we travel side by side in life? I loved your “now who else can I talk to” inner dialogue! Good work Jami. I look forward to reading your words from Spain.

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