The horn of the incoming train echoed throughout the station bringing the attention of the hundreds of passengers as they looked up in unison. Like soldiers reporting to their commander, the passengers quickly and efficiently stood in a straight line on the platform preparing to board the train. It would take one command, or in this case the simple opening of the door, and the fight would begin.
The rush of the evening commute quickly became a daily routine embedded into my DC experience. It was 5:30 pm and like everyone else around me, I was ready to go home. You could tell It’s been a long week for the atmosphere was filled with exhaustion and everyone’s faced reflected fatigue.
As the passengers quickly poured into the center of the train and fought for seats, I was swayed into the center, forced to stand around the sea of young professionals. Clutching my bag and holding my breath, I grabbed onto the railing in an attempt to stabilize the crowd surfing.
After a few sorrys, excuse me’s along with some pushing and shoving, I couldn’t help but stop and look around me. The majority of the passengers avoided all type of humanly contact. Young professionally dressed workers gathered around with loud headphones, expressionless faces and no intent of conversation. Everyone else either read, slept or simply stared blankly at the ground.
I continued to observe the setting around me. What was everyone thinking? For a city of intellectuals in an environment of constant change, was everyone really too tired for a simple train conversation?
I witnessed passengers of all ages, races and social class. The mixture of people was phenomenal. A train carrying a mini UN. Peace resolution for Syria anyone?
If that was my thought process, then what about everyone else here? Imagine the type of conversation we could hold? The possibilities were endless.
I couldn’t hold my thoughts too long for more people began to pull in. An African American woman in her early twenties came in with a crying baby in her arms. The older man next to me sighed with despair and more people began to plug in their headphones. A train ride that was once so silent echoed with the cry of a hungry child in the arms of mother in despair.
No one budged or said a word, for what were they going to say? Until a white, upper-middle class woman, in her designer suit decided to take action. Fearing she would lash out, the woman took a different approach. Instead, she got up and offered her seat. After a number of sincere thank yous, the mother took the seat and cradled her son, and the baby began to fall asleep.
It took a moment to soak in what hit me. A simple humanitarian gesture broke stereotypes that have been in place for years. The soothing silence of a sleeping baby said it all.
I looked around me hoping that someone else had caught the trade. Did anyone else understand the complexities of the upper class vs middle class, black vs white, representation that had just occurred? In simplest terms, the microcosm of these two women reaffirmed the potential of this simple train ride. The larger scope of a tiny exchange provoked a series of thoughts I hadn’t taken into consideration outside my high school history class.
So maybe we can draft a resolution here. Or maybe, we can’t.
But one thing is for sure; my faith in humanity was reaffirmed. I guess everyone’s expressionless face was simply a front of great ideas and good intention. This woman clearly proved otherwise.
And inevitably, the train came to a stop and people flurried back to their daily lives. I was impressed by what happened, and made sure to bring up the exchange over dinner with my housemates. For what’s the value if it’s not shared with others? I hope that they share the story with others, so when they’re on the train and see someone in despair, despite color, class and all other stereotypes encompassed, they can see the good in the situation. It was a simple experience, but a memorable one, and I hope to keep living it, one moment at a time.