One year ago today, I was in London with my husband riding the Underground transit from Piccadilly Circus to High Street, Paddington to Westminster, packed nose to nose in a metal tube launching us at warp speed across the city. Up and down the lifts, rushing through the turnstiles, bumping our way through the opening train doors in an ocean of commuters. We saw nothing extraordinary about it at the time. Public subways in big cities are so common that we even grumbled at the chore of it.
At one stop—Notting Hill Gate, I believe, because I remember thinking, This cluster wasn’t in the romcom film! It was so crowded that we almost got left behind. We had just made it inside the passenger car when the doors slid closed and caught on my jacket. They reopened to the silent frowns of my fellow commuters.
Overhead a cheery female auto-voice said, “Mind the gap.”
The doors tried to close again and despite holding my breath and leaning forward, I was still in the way.
“Mind the gap,” she repeated.
This time, the passengers audibly groaned. I was holding up the train. And let me tell you… there is nothing quite so politely shaming as the British groan.
The only way for me to fit was to bear hug my husband, bury my face in his chest, and hold on for dear life.
The gap is the six inches of void between the station platform and the subway car. The space that drops down to the electrified vacuum below. Being new to this mind the gap business, I probably analyzed it far more than I should. Six inches seemed too small to lose a foot, but a high-heeled shoe for sure. One could certainly twist an ankle. God forbid a small child reach a hand into the gap. A thin walking cane could fall clean through, and I was sure many had lost house keys, money, sunglasses, heirloom jewelry… but what else had been lost in that gap? Much, I presumed, if Parliament, the Queen, or whomever, had decided that warning was necessary.
Mind the gap. She said it every time the doors opened and closed. When you’re riding for half an hour or longer with stops every two minutes, you hear a lot of “Mind the gap. Mind the gap. Mind the gap.”
It became my husband and my Summer 2019 catchphrase:
We’d take our seats at a restaurant, and he’d scoot my chair closer, “Mind the gap.”
I’d be washing my face in our minuscule London apartment bathroom, and he’d saddle up beside me to spit out his toothpaste. “Come on, man,” I’d plead. “Mind the gap.”
He’d look left instead of right crossing the street, and I’d throw an arm out to stop him. “Mind the gap.”
I’d text my baby brother, forgetting the time difference between London and Miami. My husband would remind me, “Mind the gap.”
Today, instead of six inches, we’re warned to keep clear six feet for coronavirus safety. It’s been heartbreaking to mind the gap and stay away from our beloveds—grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, best friends, and neighbors. A kind of daily living torture not to be close to them and to know that at any moment, they could disappear into the unknown (COVID-19). Mind the gap has taken on a new meaning that transcends our physical proximity. The emotional and heart ‘gap’ has proven its own plague, more onerous than the one we face in the flesh.
And then the gap widened even further. We saw that for many, a gap pervaded their entire lives, generations, annals of lineage. That’s the menacing truth that the murder of George Floyd revealed: a gap in our black and white communities; a gap in our justice system; a gap in our nation’s fundamentals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A gap in our humanity.
Yes, I know, I promised you a column that celebrates Simple Pleasures. But simple pleasures are not limited to one skin color, socioeconomic status, ancestry, language, religion, sex, or any other qualifier. Simple pleasures are governed by a greater power that deems us worthy of them by virtue of our living, breathing, feeling existence.
So, I decided to use this as an opportunity to amplify the imperative voice asking, telling, warning us to mind the gap. Take a moment to stop and really look at the space between here and there, between your community and another’s. Even if you’ve not personally lost anything in the gap, consider what others have lost. Imagine if you did lose something precious in that gap and let your empathy move you to action.
In minding the gap ourselves, we can help others mind the gap, too. Therein lies the greatest pleasure, and it’s as simple as reaching out your hand over the divide.
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!