Around 2 am the other night, I had just slogged my tired wet feet on to the 6 train after having worked another nine hour shift behind a bar. (A bar, I should preface, in which there are faces and sounds I hold quite dear to my heart.) I’m standing there, holding onto the pole above me as if it’s all my bones…as if it is the only thing keeping me from disappearing into a heap of black, whiskey-soaked clothing on the subway floor. I was dazing out the window, hitting the languid rhythm of the lights with my eyes and reflecting, all at once, on what seemed to be just about everything in my life.
Years of bartending as a means of survival as an artist have had a way of taxing my soul from time to time; the late nights, the diverse array of personalities I endure and the fact that being behind a bar is ultimately not the kind of stage upon which I want to thrive. With five years of bartending under my belt and ten years altogether in the service industry, I have always felt as if my passion as an artist was desperately trying to escape the dark logic behind the instinct to survive. I believe it is one of the many reasons I returned back to school to get my MFA four years after having graduated from college. Four years of countless auditions, lemming-like workshops, bi-coastal moves and night after bar-lit night pouring martinis to pay my rent.
A symphony of fears and insecurities flooded my mind: “Was I ever going to catch a break? Would I ever make my sole living as an actress? Is my face fresh enough? My body, thin enough? Does talent even matter anymore? What is wrong with me? Why aren’t I more grateful? And, dammit, what the hell am I still doing behind a bar?!” And, I lost it. I broke into big, fat, silent, hopeless tears. There was no sound, just pain enveloping my face and dense petals of teardrops sopping onto the man’s lap sitting in front of me. He was dressed in blue from head to toe; a heavy beat blasting through his phones. I saw him shift a bit and look up towards me. His big brown eyes looked concerned, as if he was beginning to feel what I was feeling; as if it hurt him to see me this way. I wiped my cheek with my shoulder and tried to hold my breath to keep from feeling anything, but despite my best efforts, I was crumbling into myself like a little girl told to stop crying.
I saw him move about to get something out of his pocket: a big wad of brown paper napkins. Peeling one out, he handed it to me and nodded his head to go on and take it. I blotted my eyes and mouthed “thank you” to him. Of course, his action, with all its simple thoughtfulness was so beautiful it only made me weep more. “How kind,” I thought. “Where has he been tonight? Where is he going? I wonder what his struggles are like…” He reached into his pocket again, this time pulling out a pen. I noticed him writing something down. I foolishly worried it might be his number. When he was done writing, he stood up and gestured to his seat for me to sit, holding out the wad of napkins. I was hesitant to take it at first, but with no words he insisted I accept them. So, I did. He smiled reassuringly, turned his back and walked through the sliding doors.
The picture at the top of this article is the note he gave to me. It reads, “It will be OK, whatever it is. Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Some people believe in angels or guardians or signs from things or people outside of ourselves to awaken something dormant within us, to remind us of something, to lead us somewhere, or to someone. Perhaps, he was an angel…or maybe, he was just a NYC stranger who can still allow himself to feel and be felt.
All I know is, I will keep this note with me forever, I will pass it along throughout my life and I will look at his words to remind me that everything will be OK, that doubts and fears are normal but are not useful, that compassion is king and that empathy, and random acts of kindness still exist.
By Kate Taney
This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.