I was coming back from a circus show in North Beach. I had gotten there by train, the same train I took to visit my mother when she was in San Francisco living on the street. (She’s doing the same now in San Jose.) Going out I remembered the weight of sorrow in my face, where there are frown lines now. I remember the alienation from everyone else on that train, the city. I remember the pure desperation, the adrenaline rush. I noticed my breathing became fast and shallow. I breathed the four/four pattern: four count in-breath, four count hold, four count out-breath, four count hold.
The show was spectacular. In a historic dance hall, acrobatics, juggling, music and dance filled the space. The exuberance of youth and the beauty of creative and physical accomplishment were greeted with cheers and applause.
Out on the street again was the vibrancy of North Beach, land of the Beat poetry and t’ai chi in the park. The life of friends and family, eating and drinking at curb-side tables. At the bus stop, someone packing a food delivery onto their motor scooter said “Have a good night.” and “It’s good to see your smile.”
In the middle of life, there is all life. I notice, perhaps more than others, someone sitting on the cardboard box in front of a closed store, someone on the bus sitting still with the hood of their puffy jacket obscuring their face, the bottom of the bag laid out next to them torn. I know everyone has a story.
Coming down the stairs at the train status, I notice a man. He has the air of someone going nowhere in particular. He invites to me breathe, raising his hands with in breath, lowering hands breathing out. I don’t want to be seen that way, so clearly, by a stranger.
I find an uneasy seat on the train platform and settle myself. I look up from my phone to something I recognized. The woman seated across from me has my mom’s hair, brown and gray, straight and thick. I thought it was my mom. She was looking down reading as my mother did often. She is shaped like my mother.
I knew she wasn’t my mother. Still, I wanted to rush over to her. The wish to see her was so strong. I looked at this woman. I told myself it is not her. The woman raised her head, her face was not my mother’s.
I breathe. I get on the next train and go home.