Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Woman on the Subway


The subway train was crammed, so I didn't see her right away.  I was busy putting in my iPod and picking music, so we were almost at the next station when I heard a soft sniff.  Then I heard two more soft sniffs, and I looked slightly to my left and saw a tall, slender woman with short red hair and full lips, and puffy downcast eyes.  I saw her wipe her cheek, as if brushing away a tear.  She sniffed again, softly again.  She was crying, quietly, alone on a packed train in her puffy black winter coat.

The train was so crammed I had to step off to let others off at the stop, since I was smucked up against the doors.  When the crush of people passed, I got back on the train, and made my way as far in as possible.  The woman had done the same, and I found myself standing beside her.  I did not want to turn my back to her, and shut out her energy from me and my energy from her, so I faced her instead.  The sadness was flowing off of her in waves, pulses of pain, and she was trying hard to keep her emotions in check.  She didn't want to cry on the packed subway, but she was.

I wanted her to know it was OK that she was crying, because people in this city are all so weird about people being emotional in public outside of a very few limited displays that we're comfortable with.  I hate that a lot, and I hate that in this city so many people who are in pain are ignored - written off as crazy, or out of control, or just not our problem.  This woman was not crazy or out of control, she was upset.  She was on a line that connects to Hospital Row; she had gauze and medical tape on her skin; the gauze was positioned in two places on her chest; only serious things get injected or connected to a person's chest; she must have just had some bad news, perhaps about herself, perhaps about someone she loves; she was upset, and there was nothing but pure sadness, woe, and submission to the universe about her on that train.

She was working to control her sadness, but a big wave of it came over her suddenly and her lips curled into a near-sob.  I reached out and put my mittened hand on her shoulder, and patted her.  She looked up.  I didn't say anything, just looked at her, felt her sadness, and moved my hand to her forearm that was hanging onto the subway pole for steadiness in the rocking train.  I patted her forearm, then I put my hand back on the pole too.  She said "Thanks," and I just nodded.  I felt like crying too.  Her sadness was so palpable.

I just wanted her to know that she's not alone.  That even in a subway - which is like an elevator in that everyone is awkwardly semi-facing everyone else and everyone absurdly sets their eyes to the ceiling to avoid unexpected contact with another human being - she was not alone.  People were all around her, and not all of them wanted to make contact, but I wanted to and to let her know that not everyone is unfeeling and not everyone was ignoring her.  She wasn't anonymous, improper, or crazy.

I hope she got home, closed her door, and sank into a chair wrapped in sobs and the disaster crashing around her.  I hope she could call someone who is always there for her, and talk everything through.  I hope that the despair only lasts a short while, and I hope that she never feels bad about being sad on the train.  She was just a person on the subway, but I cared about her.

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