The Boy on the Train
I wasn’t going to make this a thing, but I’m still processing it…and writing is the way I process, so here we are.
Yesterday morning, I was on the subway heading to work. And let’s be honest: things haven’t been great for a bit. Everything is kind of A Lot right now, I’m not sleeping well, my anxiety is flaring, huge upheavals are happening. And yes, I’m getting help for those things.
But, context: I’m miserable.So about halfway to work, a young man gets on the train and sits across from me. He’s maybe a few years younger than me. “That’s a cool jacket,” I think, and then lapse back into sadness.
A few stops later, I look up and notice that he’s crying. Silent tears course down his cheeks.
I pretend engrossment in my phone, because public emotion is awkward and I want to give him privacy. After all, I am also miserable. If I started crying right then, I’d want everyone to ignore me until I could regain control.
But then silent tears turn to that thin weeping you do when your heart’s really broken.
Shit shit shitshitshit
My heart’s hammering. We’re almost at my stop. The moment’s poised on the edge: it’s going to tip one way or the other, but which?
I look left. I look right. I take a deep breath.
And I go and sit—not beside the guy, but near him. “Hey, man. Is there anything I can do?”
He jerks upright, scrubbing his eyes. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”
“No, no,” I say lamely. “It’s just…I wasn’t sure, if it were me, would I want a stranger to reach out or leave me alone? So I needed to ask. That’s all.”
He hesitates a moment, then blurts, “I’m going to the cemetery.”
And so we have Dead Fathers Club: Subway Edition. Blowing past my stop, we talk about death, grief, and fathers all the way to his. “It may never be okay,” I tell him. “But it does get easier.”
He nods. “That’s why I’m alone, this time.”
Then we reach his stop. We say goodbye. He goes his way and I catch a train south to get back on mine.
And for all the sadness, I’m glad I was able to be of service; I’m glad he found the kindness he needed in that moment. But I think it helped me just as much as it helped him. I needed the connection too. I needed to remember that humans are Neat and we really do Try Our Best and that even two random strangers on a train can lighten each other’s burden. I needed to crawl free from my sadness and remember that this life is all about service and love.
But it’s strange: it’s both a beautiful thing that happened, but also I don’t want to make it a big thing. I didn’t do anything special. This isn’t at all about me.
The reason I’m writing this is…I just want us to remember to be kind. I want us to remember that even in the depths of our own darkness, we can still offer light. And I want us to remember that Being Human sometimes means being very, very sad, and also lifting each other up, as we are able.
Thank you, Guy with Cool Jacket. I hope you find peace and healing.Be kind. Be well.
What I’m Listening To This Week
“Soon Ah Will Be Done” is another spiritual that has a jaunty tune and a heartbreaking historical context.