It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you live. Someday someone will come out of nowhere to save your life. They may be a friend, relative, or a total stranger. They will just appear to be there for you for that split second, and then they will just disappear into the crowd, because the divide between life and death is just that, a split second. And you, well you may not even give it a second thought. The conversation you were just having on your cellphone was more important to you than the arm that just grabbed you from behind to prevent you from walking right into the path of the B35 bus. A little startled at first about what had just happened, you continue on with your day without even looking back to say thank you.
For me it was a hand that grabbed my foot when I was about two years old. I guess the view of East 4th street from our roof looked inviting. It was the hand of a young mother (my mom) that pulled me back inside our apartment just moments before I would become another dot on a NYC chart. For my cousin Pete, another son of Kensington and East 4th, it was the voice of a stranger screaming at him to run faster just before a piece of an airliner killed the person directly behind him on a sunny day in September 2001. It may have also been the“Brooklyn” in my cousins blood too that saved his life. When the loud speakers blared the instructions that “everything is OK and there is no need to evacuate at the present time”. My attorney cousin just said “bullshit” and left only to meet up with falling jet parts on the street below. Buy hey, he was back to work the next day up in Westchester, you got to love that Empire Blue Cross.They probably helped him forget 9/11 by making him work on 9/12.
But years before back in 1981 there was another person, someone I will never know who just appeared out of nowhere to change someone’s life. Just there for an instant to make a difference and then return to the crowd without ever knowing their name. I really didn’t think much about it that day back in 1981. It was unusual to see the Manhattan bound F express running at 5:30 in the afternoon. But as soon as I stepped out of the first car of the southbound F, I noticed a bunch of EMS guys, Cops and Fireman on the local track. Now, I’m not much for gore and just a couple of years before I saw an elderly woman get killed by a “Kings” concrete truck right before my eyes on East 2nd street in front of Carvel. And the thought of a train running someone over wasn’t exactly something I’d like to take to bed that night. So I just walked up the stairs and then down Beverly towards my house.
By the time I got to my block I noticed a Police car parked right in front of my house. And on the porch there were two Cops talking to my mom. By the look on her face something really bad had just happened.“Grandma had an accident on the subway” said my mom.“Is she ok?” I said. “They don’t know, they just took her to Methodist Hospital”. I looked at the two Cops and said, “what kind of accident?” “She fell onto the tracks on the Northbound side” one of them said....“that was my grandmother, that was my grandmother”! I yelled!
Well before you knew it I was in my 73 Buick and driving up the hill to Methodist Hospital in Park Slope. It was probably the first time I was there since I was born. I got there before any one in my family did and my grandma wasn’t a pretty sight. There she was still on the stretcher waiting to get into the ER. Her clothes were all bloody and the gash on the side of her head was so big you could probably put a candy bar in it. But even in her condition the doctors assured us all that she was going to be just fine, but should keep away from subway platforms for a while. And what about that stranger that came out of nowhere you ask? Well, we never got to thank the man that saved mygrandmothers life. The police told us that he didn’twant to give his his name or address. As soon as he saw her fall on to the tracks, he noticed theheadlights of an oncoming train entering the tunnel up by avenue C. He ran upstairs to tell the token clerk about what had just happened. They somehow stopped the train just before it entered the station, just a fewfeet from where my grandmother was sprawled across the rail. He stayed with her for a while until the Police came, and then got on the F express once it started running. Just like that without ever knowing his name, this guy saved my grandmothers life and then got on the train and left, simply amazing. My 80 year old grandmother healed up and got better,she gave us another fifteen years of her stories about growing up in Cuba, and was able to see her great grandchildren born before she died in 1996. All because of someone I will never know, a "Kensington Stranger" by no other name, and all I can say is “thank you” who ever you are.