Subway Series: Public Moments of Private Kindness
A guest post by Kelsey Jae Burke
Living in NYC can be stressful. You’re constantly being thrown into situations in which you can only control yourself; and you are but one variable in the equation.
Most of the time, transit is a hassle. The goal is getting from A to B as quickly as possible with as little human interaction as necessary. This sounds a bit selfish, and it can be. But in a fast-paced environment where everyone is of this mindset, it is difficult to be leisurely, lest you be taken advantage of by others in that mindset. Frankly, by the end of a long day the last thing you want to do is be shoved into a train car like sardines, with your neighbors sweating all over you.
After a particularly grueling day at the office, I had to run an errand far downtown from my office (and even farther from my apartment) and thereby off my normal train line. Because of this, I was already in a testy mood because this is now a three-hour delay from the comfort and safety of my couch.
It’s late, so the train is pretty deserted. I choose a seat across from a college student accompanying two elementary school students, the trio look to be siblings. Backpacks on the little ones, fidget spinners in hand, the kids are calmly sprawled out while their sister sits, struggling to balance four takeout containers without a bag on her lap.
I contemplated for a few minutes how difficult that must be for her. To have to maintain the safety of herself and her siblings. We’re on an uptown Q train heading to the border of the Upper East Side and Harlem, and we’re at the last stop so it can be assumed they’re either switching to a bus or walking much further after we get off.
I think of similar situations I’ve had struggled with in the past, or the anxiety of carrying something in a bag and being afraid it will rip. Think of it yourself. Whether you think it’s logical or likely, thoughts race if this accident were to happen. Will people feel anger that I’ve disrupted their day? In NYC, the answer is usually yes. Will people help me pick up my stuff or just pass by? Would someone give me a bag to hold my things? Will I be stuck here forever or doomed to leave behind precious food that I can’t afford to replace?
I began to rummage through my own backpack, and found two sturdy grocery bags that I had brought my lunch in that morning. I took out my headphones and stood up. I asked the eldest sibling if they needed help. She let out the biggest sigh of relief and asked me four times if I’m sure I want to give these to her. I said of course, and she began to tear up.
She then thanked me again, and said she suffers terrible anxiety and had quietly been on the verge of a panic attack. She went on to explain that she had been horrified of what would happen if she attempted to get this home on the long walk from the train station. She had food for her family to distribute, and the younger ones can’t carry these large containers. We talked a bit more about that anxiety, and how common it is to have this fear but how much worse when you do have that anxiety layered in. I gave her the bags and helped her get the food evenly distributed.
Her siblings politely said thank you. Then, they started laughing and playing. Just like close friends, they began telling me stories about their school days, taught me how to use the fidget spinner, and talked more about the different psychological realities in their lives of ADHD, ADD, and anxiety, and how the fidget spinners really help mitigate these affects. It seemed that the biggest concern of the night was getting home safely, and getting the hard-earned food home safely as well. To them, I helped make that possible simply by getting out of my own end of the day bubble of negativity.
After getting off the train, we chatted a while longer on the subway platform. Before parting ways, I was offered two hugs and one pink fidget spinner. I turned down the spinner, but accepted the hugs. While they expressed gratitude that someone approached with a solution to a problem before the problem surfaced, I was grateful to have met a pleasant family in NYC and to be reminded of simple kindness.
Particularly, this reinforced that you never know what burdens someone else is shouldering, or what different states of being or obstacles they’re working to overcome. To many, that would just be a semi-uncomfortable walk home, balancing food containers. To this young woman, it was the difference between fear/anxiety and ability/comfort to get from A to B safely, and with confidence and ease.
Just another lesson in being a better human.
New Yorkers, next time you’re in a situation like this try doing what you’d want someone to do for you if you were on the other end. Then, share that experience with us!
If you know someone who can relate, share this story on Facebook with them. Or, share if you have had similar experiences—and if know the pain of this type of daily commute. (Cars count too!)