Earlier this week, I was on the train commuting to work and something happened that I cannot stop thinking about. I did something that at the time made me slightly pause with guilt before I consciously made the decision to ignore the feeling. As I was about to exit the train at my stop, I noticed a woman seated right by the exit door crying. This was not just a silent private cry, but a full blown tears-streaming-down-the-face cry. Cue the slight pause that almost made me stop to ask her if she was okay. Almost.
But my ear buds were in, and the train door was open, and I was already really late for work. So I ignored the gut instinct that caused me to pause in the first place. I ignored the urge to kneel down in front of her and ask her if she was okay. I ignored everything inside of me that was begging me to empathize. I just did not have enough time for that. After all, I had to make a mad dash across that station platform to catch my connecting train, whose doors were seconds away from closing… So that is exactly what I did.
I continued on selfishly with my day. I did not give thought to that crying woman again- until 2 days later, when she rushed back into my thoughts and stopped me right in my tracks. I was so utterly disappointed in myself. I could have done something. I should have done something. When did I become too busy to be human?
When I first moved from a small town in Pennsylvania to New York City for graduate school five years ago, it was a major life adjustment for me. Not only did I feel incredibly alone and vulnerable to begin with, but it was a bitter cold January full of miserable icy snowstorms. That combination in itself is recipe enough for even a well-balanced person to feel the blues. I remember crying on the train every single night on my way to class for the first two months, and feeling shocked that not even one person ever asked me if I was okay. Not one.
The thing is it is our jobs as human beings to be there for each other. We must help each other on this journey. After all, we are all in this together. I know it is easy to get so caught up in the daily hustle of our own lives, but we must never lose our ability to be human. We must tap into the emotions and feelings that make us human and allow room for compassion, sympathy, empathy, kindness, consideration, etc. We cannot lose those, or else we will lose ourselves.
If I could go back in time to that moment with the crying woman on the train, I would do things differently. I would make the effort. I would take the ear buds out and ask her if she was okay. I would let her know that she was not alone.
All most people want and need is to know that there are other people out there in the world that understand and will be there for them. Never underestimate what a kind word or a show of concern from another person, even if it is a stranger, can do to make someone’s day better. It truly is as simple as that!