Thursday, March 24, 2011

Where Will I Go to Make My Soup, or, Thoughts on a Train

I have been thinking a lot lately about how quickly everything can change. Tunisia, Egypt, Japan, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain. . .one minute, people were living their lives as they had been for years, and the next minute, chaos, fear, violence, uncertainty, seemingly out of nowhere.

This morning I got up with Miss M. and let T lie in bed a bit longer, as I often do. I fed her a yogurt. I made the coffee. We watched cartoons. He got them both dressed, and I kissed them goodbye as they left for a jog. I showered, got dressed, put on jewelry and makeup. I gathered my things and I put on my coat. I double checked my pockets and I left the house. I was on my way to the train station, on my way to a meeting. It was an ordinary morning in every way. For me.

In some other place, a man that I do not know also woke up this morning. Or maybe he did not. Maybe he never fell asleep last night. Maybe he sat all night and watched the clock and waited for this morning. Maybe he sat deep in thought. Maybe he didn't think at all. Did he shower today, like me? Did he pick out what he was wearing, ever so carefully? Was he, too, on his way to a meeting? I don't know.

When I left the house, I briefly considered which route to take to the train station. I'd almost taken an earlier train, then decided that this later one left me enough time to get where I was headed. But of course, I left the house a few minutes later than I should have, and now with traffic I wasn't sure that I would make my train at all. I chose a route, and ran the last bit through the station. I got on the train with 5 minutes to spare. Success.

And him, that man that I do not know, he must've set off for the train station, as well. Or perhaps he had nowhere to go today, and simply ended up there. Perhaps he drove around, trying to sort out his life, and made the decision. Maybe he was simply going about his ordinary day, too. Did he get there early? Did he choose his train? Did he contemplate his options? Did he think about the lone person, a child really, who would see him there, on the platform? Did he think about all of us, on that train that I was on? Did he simply want to be on someone's radar one last, one final time? Did he just want to matter? Did he just want someone to notice him, even for one horrible moment?

After I got on my train, I found my seat, then sorted through my work and checked my Blackberry. I glanced through my text messages. I started to read the last bits I wanted to take in before my meeting. After the train started, I didn't look out the window at the world outside. I never saw the man. Twenty minutes after I got on my train this morning, while I was lost in my reading, I felt a sudden deceleration in the train. The acrid smell of brake dust filled the air. The high speed rail took a very long time to stop after the conductor applied the brakes. We were nowhere near a platform.

The man who I did not know jumped in front of my train. He died.

As I sat stuck on the train for hours this afternoon after it happened, as they tended to him then investigated his death, I couldn't help think of the hundreds of people on that train, and how every one of them was losing a few hours of their life due this man who'd just lost his life. Then I began to wonder: what would have happened if we had all known that this was about to happen? Would each one of us, each person on that train, have given him those same hours we spent stuck on that train with him dead, to save him? If we had all banded together, I'll bet we collectively wasted 450 hours stuck on that train, waiting for investigators to arrive, sort out, fiddle about, uncouple, recouple, reroute, etc. If we had been able to get to him in life, abided with him for those same 450 hours, given him advice and warm meals and listened to his stories, counseled him and cried with him and worked to ease his suffering, could we have helped him find his way again? Could we have kept him from making that terrible decision? In death, we all gave hours to this man we did not know. Could we have given them in life? More importantly, shouldn't we have given them in life?

If you know that there is a payment that will be extracted from you, willingly or not, it would make sense to make the payment at a time when you might actually be able to do some good, right? Yet, we all know that there are so many bad things going on in the world, yet we are so busy with our work and our reading and our Blackberries that we don't often find the time to help like maybe we should. If there was a chance my fellow passengers and I could have saved the man by making him soup and counseling him, I hope we would have all done it, rather than have him die and waste our day stuck on a train that had run out of sandwiches. But, and this is critical, I think: we each COULD be making metaphorical soup for the many ills of the world, long before those ills are standing on metaphorical train platforms thinking of jumping. That's what today made me realize.

Which brings me back to Tunisia and Egypt and Japan and Libyan and Yemen and Bahrain, and really, every small corner of any community that finds itself in crisis. If every one of us just take tiny steps to interconnect as global citizens, by donating money or making a new international blog friend or dropping off groceries to the new immigrant down the street who doesn't speak English or standing up to hate when we hear it in our communities, we improve the world in a small but powerful way. Think of the power of it, if every person did. If every person on the train gives their time before the man jumps off the platform in front of the speeding train, we might be able to stop the man from even standing on the platform and contemplating jumping. I wonder how quickly we could make the world change for the better.


Manda said...

This is one of the most provocative entries I believe I've ever read... And, continuing your train of thought, it probably wouldn't have even taken every person on the train to change the stranger's outcome that day. If just one person had taken x-number of hours (where x is the number of hours taken from your day on the train) and simply sat beside him, bought him a coffee, asked him what his favorite book/movie/snack was... The entire world would be a different place because he would still be alive. We can never know what impact our actions (or lack thereof) will have on our world. We simply must do the best we can to try to keep from leaping off train platforms.

-K said...

How heartbreaking. Suicide is just so sad. Love your blog though!

Jamie said...

Oh, wow. This is an amazing post. I can't help but think, if I had this experience there is no way I could have told it as delicately and thoughtfully as you.

It does make you stop and think - as I go through the mundane details and tasks of my everyday average single day, what is happening around me? There is sure to be somone who desperately wishes they could have their mundane details and tasks back. That man's family, for one.

Heartbreaking but well told.