On September 12, 2001 I made a promise to myself. I promised that I was going to live each moment as if it were my last. I promised I wouldn’t take my family or friends for granted and I would work on obtaining a pure heart. Making these promises made me feel alive, sort of like I had been reborn and I couldn’t wait to meet all the other enlightened people who made similar promises to themselves in the wake of a national tragedy.
But, unfortunately, as time passed I forgot my promises. I got back into my daily groove and became my old selfish self. I took my family and friends for granted. Frankly, I became impatient, uncaring and I wasn’t all that nice to people. And, all those other people I looked forward to meeting, all those enlightened souls who made promises similar to mine — they just didn’t exist, or if they did I didn’t see them. What I did see were shouting matches over parking spaces and doors slamming in neighbors’ faces. I saw rude, insincerity and I worried about all of us. I worried that everyone forgot and broke their promises. I worried that we might become a selfish society that simply forgot to be nice. Luckily for me all this changed when I encountered an unlikely hero on the R6 Local.
I was trekking home from the city on the R6 local and I was tired, hot and miserable. I found a seat near the window and prepared myself for a relaxing 23-minute snooze. My head propped up against the glass, I mentally perused my fridge for dinner options when a very vocal man entering my train car interrupted my thoughts. He strung together profanities in a way I never thought possible. He stumbled down the aisle and while rushing through the middle of the car he managed to offend every race in the train car. He grabbed the side of my seat and I began to feel sick with disgust.
He was ranting and loud and I just wanted him to stop. I wanted him to stop moving, to stop yelling, to stop being, to just stop! I wanted to jump out of my skin. Why today after my terrible workday did I end up sitting in this train car? Please stop!
He was so disruptive I almost didn’t notice the women behind him. She was one of those people you just don’t really notice. She had no style, poor posture and she barely said a word. I thought how pathetic she was to be with this awful man. How could she stand it, couldn’t she find a different companion? As the two sat down the man oscillated between offending people and asking the woman a million questions; “What station are we at now?” “What stop is next?” “This is where the black people live right?” The more questions he asked, the more it became clear to us R6 passengers that this man was obviously mentally ill. Even though all us worker bees in our business casual attire understood he was sick he still made everyone nervous and uncomfortable. You could feel the tension on the train growing and even though I knew it was wrong to think this, I just kept saying to myself “please be quiet, for all our sakes, please be quiet”.
A well-dressed man in a loose tie got tired of some of the racial comments and started to shift in his seat. Tension heightened and everyone sensed something dire was about to happen and then all of s sudden the ranting man was calm and quiet. The women I had barely noticed before seemed to magically soothe him. She seemed to know how to calm him down and make him comfortable. She not only tolerated his behavior, she seemed to embrace it. She was completely content to be with him.
I strained to hear the young women over the man’s rants. She was answering his questions as she stroked his back. She was patient and full of grace and she seemed to have more compassion for this person then I had ever seen one person have for another.
This woman probably had to live with this man’s rants and humiliating behavior every day. She had to endure things I could not even begin to understand and yet she was strong and calm and maybe the coolest person I had ever encountered. She was such an unlikely hero…and yet she had the most profound impact on me.
The six of us in the train car didn’t notice the man’s disorder at first because we were absorbed in our own discomfort. We forgot the promises we made to ourselves. We forgot the promises we made to our neighbors. All we cared about was getting home, forgetting our workday and forgetting this man on the train. But the woman made us remember our promise, to step out of our comfortable self and realize that we all need to be patient, we all need to be neighborly and kind. And we need to do this not only after a tragedy such as 9/11 but every day. To not feel guilty about having to work at being a better person, but to be sure that we are working at it.
As I walked off that train car that day, I leaned into her seat and told her to have a good evening. She smiled a big, beautiful smile and said “thank you” and told me to have a good evening as well. I knew I met a superhero. She may not be more powerful then a locomotive but she was the most compassionate person on the train that day and she had enough strength to remain kind, caring and dignified under intense stress and circumstances. As I stepped off the train I felt so lucky to have met her. I felt energy from my toes to the tip of my head! As she stepped of the train, I can’t be certain, but I think she might have been wearing a red cape.