The Words of the Prophets Are Written on the Subway Walls
By Michael Steckel
M. Night Shyamalan said it best through the mouth of Haley Joel Osment: “I see dead people.” And I do, every day. On the train, in Safeway, at work, in the malls. They are dead to nature, dead to their surroundings, and dead to their own selves. Or so it seems to me, judging from how oblivious they are to the life that happens all around them. They are some of us, and they are most of us, and they are all of us.
What is the fundamental human condition? Is it hate, overweening pride, jealousy, gluttony, lust, laziness, and an all-consuming need for power and domination? The seven deadly sins, they are, and one only need watch the news or pick up the newspaper to find shining examples. “It is in your nature to destroy yourselves,” and, indeed, we Homo sapiens are careering down that path at breakneck speed. Are we destined to all become the walking dead, insulated in our own little short-sighted lives, until wreck and ruin come crashing down on our heads? Can we not see where this fragile earth is headed, and avert ultimate disaster?
I am Abraham, desperately trying to find enough good among the wicked to save Sodom and Gomorrah. My senses tell me that hope is gone: this symphony of destruction will play out to its bitter end. But what is life without hope? “Luminous beings are we,” and if we cannot hope then we are truly dead.
There is a family of pigeons living, of all places, inside an overhead cable tray in the Glen Park BART station, 150 feet below ground. How many of the thousands of people who pass through that station each day know that, or have taken the time to pause and look? The words of the prophets really are written on the subway walls, there for any who care to look. Gems and jewels and small signs that there walk among us those that are truly alive. These signs come unlooked for, in all manner of places, each and every day. I like watching for them, those little lines that stay with you and make you realize that whoever said it or wrote it was really thinking, really living life to its fullest. Words to live by.
• “Don’t give in to hate; that leads to the dark side.” Without hate we would be left with love, and the world would be a far better place.
• “To preach of peace and brotherhood, oh what might be the cost? A man he did it long ago, and they hung him on the cross.” Persevere, despite what the rest of the world thinks.
• “Courage of the heart is very rare. It has a power when it’s there.” Be true, not just to your heart, but also to the very heart of humanity.
• “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children.” Revere all mothers, including Mother Earth.
• “Remember that the people you work for are waiting for you at home.” Family values are a thing to treasure, not a concert tour.
• “All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.” Decide well, and decide wisely. The choices we make affect not only ourselves but all life.
• “Never give up, don’t ever give up.” Heartfelt words from a dying man. Take it beyond Jimmy Valvano’s personal battle with cancer: don’t give up on yourself or your fellow man.
• “I will sing, sing a new song.” Take joy in the pleasures of life. Sing, dance, hold hands, pet the cat, talk to the plants, look at the stars, watch the sun rise, smell the salt air.
• “Some of us live life like a board game. It’s new, fun, and you play it with people. There’s a time you get tired, and you put it away. Then, one day, you get it out and the pieces are broken.” No matter how much Monopoly money you have, if the board is destroyed the game is over. Don’t let it happen to you.
• “Don’t drive angry, don’t drive angry.” Better yet, don’t be angry.
• “It’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst.” Make your heart like to the balloon, and see how much beauty you can pour into it.
“I too have looked at the earth, the sun, and the stars and wondered why and how. Now I know.” My father wrote that as his own epitaph, years before he passed away after a long fight with leukemia. Since his death I have tried myself to look and wonder, as often as I can. Maybe if we all do we can make the dead people go away. “And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.”