Those who live in New York City can unanimously agree on one thing: subways suck. There’s something about being crammed into a dirty tin can, underground, with a bunch of strangers, that is universally unappealing.
Recently, I was commuting to work; it was probably one of my more ordinary commutes (which is saying a lot because, having been commuting as a native New Yorker for quite some time now, I’ve seen a lot of things).
Around eight people were standing around one pole with me, and the train was packed. But it was no more unpleasant than any other commute, and I thought it would be the normal five minutes or so to the next stop where I would get off.
Until one of the women turned to the man next to her and said, “Don’t push me.” His response could have been (and mine would have been), “Okay” (because my general idea on the train is don’t cause controversy). It could have ended here: an unnecessary comment.
Instead, his response was, “Don’t come at me! I’m not pushing you, you’re pushing me! What right do you have to say anything to me, lady?!” (with a few choice expletives which I’ve omitted). Many people in the train car turned to look in the direction of the outburst. The woman who had made the original comment realized that she was in way over her head; she obviously hadn’t expected that reaction. All of the sudden her defiance turned to fear. Again, it could have ended here: an overreaction.
But another woman holding onto the same pole looked at them and very calmly said, “No one is pushing anyone. We’re all packed tightly in here. We are just taking this train to where we need to be. Let’s make it as easy as possible.”
It seriously felt like peace descended on the whole area. Everyone took a deep breath and then...nothing. Miraculously, it ended there. I tried to give that woman a grateful smile, because it was the first time I had ever seen that response to fighting. Usually people don’t want to get involved, but her honesty and her peacefulness left me in awe.
It was one of those moments where I saw everything play out in my head. I saw all of the choices that were being made and how they affected the other people on the train. I thought that there was no return from the screaming match that had just transpired. But, with the kindness of one woman, her acknowledgment of the issue, everything changed. She made one good decision that outweighed all of the bad ones.
Things like this happen all of the time, on the train and in our lives. People make choices that we clearly see are detrimental. And while we see them, we don’t always have the courage to speak up like that woman did. I, for one, have fallen into this pattern way too many times, especially on the train. I mutter under my breath that we’re all trying to get to work, or home, but I have never had the courage to say that directly to someone.
In our lives, it often feels like circumstances around us are beyond our control. Like we can’t, or shouldn’t, step in.
While it’s not our responsibility to break up subway fights, it is our responsibility to make good decisions, even amidst a sea of bad ones. Like the second woman’s decision to bring peace and calm, a decision to acknowledge that yes, where we are stinks, so why are we making it worse for those around us?
As Christians, we’re all trying to get to the Kingdom of Heaven. While a subway doesn’t seem like the most obvious way to get there, it just might help; There are all sorts of encounters in our daily lives like the one I had on the subway, and every time, we have a choice. We can bring the peace of Christ in the midst of conflict and remind each other that we are all in the difficulties of life together or we can just watch the tension build or worse, contribute to the discord. In a world where I often feel divided from those around me, where I cross paths with hundreds of strangers per day, it’s good to be reminded that we are all connected and that there is something, however small, I can do to help others get through their day.