Life never relinquishes its capacity to surprise us, does it?
No matter how jaded we become most of us still carry a little bit of wonder inside. All it takes is for something disarming to reveal it. To remind us that we are more, much more, than just the sum of our experiences.
Sometimes it's a piece of music, sometimes it's a street parade, sometimes it's a beautiful face passing by on a busy street or the sight of someone dancing that can rivet us to the spot, or take us out of ourselves.
I'm not talking about romance, which is a tougher nut to crack. I'm talking about transcendence, really. Those rare moments when we are taken out of ourselves by something we are witnessing. Something pure. Something good.
In Herald Square, on my way to work, the crowds are the most impatient in New York City and possibly America. First of all, there are so many of them. Racing from and toward Penn Station at rush hour, they pass by at such a clip that you have to wait for a sudden break in their numbers just to be able to step out into the street.
Herald Square may once have had some beauty but it was long ago surrendered to the rise of billboards and the relentless crush of human industry. Nowadays it's just a place to pass through on your way to somewhere endurable. Don't even dare to dally on its thronging sidewalks or risk being swept up by the impatient hordes, who will quite literally run you over.
I never expected to see something beautiful on these mean streets but there he was; a tall willowy black man stepping fearlessly in front of the traffic to pirouette and curtsey to the waiting SUV's as though they were his dancing partners or his guests. He began to dance.
Playing in the traffic is a famous New York put down but there he was, arching his back and spinning out on point in the middle of a rush hour stop, with the drivers facing him rolling their eyes at this typical New York weirdness.
Clearly he had been professionally trained. Not only that, he had kept his dancers body, which was clear from the black leotards he wore under a flowing black robe. In fact, it it wasn't for what he was doing, which was on its face utterly insane, he would have looked like a gifted ballet instructor versed in jazz and modern influences and could navigate easily between them.
It's terrifying what can happen to the homeless and the mentally ill in America. I could clearly see his former life as an artist echoing through his present distressed one.
For all the anguish in the lines around his face he had retained an imposing brow and an unbreakable concentration. He moved like he was the center of the universe, pulling us all into his orbit.
How often do you see someone that imposing ballet dancing in front of a red stop light? Not very often. You could see that he believed in magic too, because how else to protect yourself from six lanes of city traffic when the light turns green?
I have seen him a lot now. Sometimes he suggests a principle dancer to me, sometimes he looks more like a Prospero, like an imposing figure from myth or Elizabethan drama, raising the large wooden staff that he sometimes carries with him to bewitch us all and bend us to his will.
Somehow, although it's clear he's homeless, he has managed to retain all the signature aspects of his earlier professional life. He still dresses like an artist and he still moves like the dancer that he was and still is. It's miraculous to retain all that ability whilst living rough on the streets year after year.
Poverty makes people invisible to us. Then homelessness drives them even further out of sight. But this man simply insists that you see him and he insists that you witness his artistry, which can stop you in your tracks. He takes our indifference and gives it back to the world as dance.
He is a daily reminder that human cruelty can be only be defied and answered by beauty. He teaches us that daily, in one of the most busy interfaces in the world, where he is seen by thousands.
And he never stops saying it. It's the performance of a lifetime. And all that beauty contrasts sharply with the cruelty that abandoned him to his lonely fate.