Sunday, May 25, 2014

Stand By Me

"Stand By Me," the 1961 classic sung by Ben E. King, seems to be a favorite, if not a staple, amongst older subway entertainers. I have heard the doo-wop group at my stop singing the tune many times as they try to sell the CD they've made, their a cappella beats filling the muggy station with a smoothness that makes the wait for the train just a little more bearable. Tonight on my train, there is a man singing an uptempo version of the song, tapping his cane along with the melody in a manner much faster than I think King originally intended. He sings and it's pleasant, and people give him a few dollars. 

I wonder why the subway musicians choose this song in particular; I'm pretty sure this is the one I've heard most often, out of any of the famous doo-wop classics.

"When the night has come and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we'll see."

While I will admit the song now conjures up images of silver subway interiors and a barrage of disinterested passengers, it also makes me think of dark, starry nights and a couple holding each other close, dancing. I'm sure it's been a choice for many a bride-and-groom dance at a wedding. Yes, it's a love song, but it's also a song about support. I know the theme resonates far beyond subway performers, and I think it's a good choice for New Yorkers in general. Much unlike Manhattan, no man is an island, as the saying goes, and we all need some backup every now and then. It's nice to know that, even on this small tract of land swarming with people, there are those who are willing to make time for you, willing to stand by you and say, even when you feel like you're worth nothing, that you are worth their time. In a city that moves as quickly as ours, sometimes there is no greater compliment. 

In his 2012 New York Times article "The 'Busy' Trap," Tim Kreider talks about what he believes is the myth of busyness. We schedule and overschedule ourselves in hopes of giving our lives meaning when in reality, as he says, "More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter." We want to believe that we matter, and we don't want others to think we're meaningless, so we become "busy." It is, I believe, especially easy to fall into a habit of scheduling every hour of your day in a city like New York, where there is so much happening all the time. In the midst of all of this so-called "busyness," though, we doubtlessly make time for the people about whom we care the most. I find that when I give the excuse, "I'm sorry, I've been so busy," it means less that I haven't had the time and more that I haven't cared about making the time. We can make time for anything we want to, be it 30 seconds or 30 minutes. Standing by someone means taking the time to make the time. 

It means sitting in your friend's apartment on the Upper West Side on a couch covered in clothes because the hanger rod has broken, listening to your friend discuss an impending life change.

It means waiting outside a friend's dressing room at a department store in Soho and agreeing when they ask you to remind them not to wear lace-up shoes when you go shopping next time.

It means realizing you haven't seen someone in a while and having Indian food with them in the middle of their workday near City Hall. 

It means having a drink or two in the basement bar in the Financial District and reconnecting with someone who has been out working on their dreams.

It means scheduling a Hell's Kitchen brunch months in advance because you don't know the next time you'll be available and you want to make sure it happens. 

It means realizing that your loved ones are more important to you than any other "busy" you might encounter; you want to let them know that no matter how "busy" you might get, you will always be standing by them. And it's such an easy thing to do, an easy way to show you care, giving this gift of time we don't think we have. New York can be a lonely, isolating place, so knowing even in some small way that we are supported, that we're not alone, can invigorate us to take on another week, month, or year. Why would you not want to give someone such a gift? 

"I won't cry, no, I won't shed a tear, just as long as you stand, stand by me."