The trip took exactly 12 minutes, but it took exactly 12 seconds before I was offered a seat by four different people.
It took place long ago, but I still remember it clearly: A newspaper boy was hawking the Baltimore Sun on a busy downtown street. I had stopped to buy a copy but had no coins. “No problem,” he said in a gentle voice as he handed me the change. “Have a good day, sir.”
“Sir.” This was the first time anyone had ever addressed me by that honorific, and I remember being a bit jarred by it. After all, I was only 15. But then I realized that the newsboy was about ten years old, and — though I had never considered myself to be a full adult — in his eyes, I was a grown, mature man and fully entitled to a “sir.” And then it occurred to me that maybe he’s right, and maybe I was in fact a grown, mature adult.
The years flew by, and in an instant I turned 20, which faded into 30, which quickly ripened into 40, and fast-forwarded into 50. By now, the “sirs” were plentiful and no longer remarkable. Through the magic of time, I was now, at least by the calendar, a grown adult. My black beard began showing signs of true maturity: white speckles made a regular appearance, and graying strands began to poke impudently through my chin’s foliage.
One day I was on a crowded bus in Jerusalem, a straphanger with dozens of other straphangers. A boy stood up and graciously offered me his seat. This was the first time anyone had ever offered me a seat, and I remember being a bit jarred by the gesture. After all, I was only 55. But then I realized that the kind boy was about ten years old, and — though I had never considered myself an old man — when he saw my graying beard and wrinkled forehead, in his eyes I was a very old man and therefore entitled to sit down. And then it occurred to me that maybe he’s right, and maybe, even though I was not yet 60, I was in fact an old man.
More years raced by — daily gifts from a beneficent Creator — the speckled beard turned unmistakably white, the wrinkles deepened, and the seat offers from younger people — which now included almost everyone — were not uncommon and no longer remarkable.
This morning, after a hiatus of several years, I rode the Jerusalem commuter train into town. The train was crowded, knee deep in straphangers. The trip took exactly 12 minutes, but it took exactly 12 seconds before I was offered a seat by four different people. (Either Jerusalemites are the kindest folks in the world, or my age must really be showing. Maybe both.)
Later today, on the return trip, I boarded the train again, pressed into the crowded car, and within the same 12 seconds I had several seat offers. However, for some reason, this time things were different. I found myself gratefully declining all offers. What suddenly brought this on, I don’t know. Perhaps I was somehow refusing to concede my antiquity, resisting the onset of twilight and the inevitable fading of the light. That might be part of it.
But I think the deeper truth is that, G-d willing, I would like to remain standing until I hear the gentle voice of that newsboy saying to me, “Please have a seat, sir.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 872)
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