“Humanity, you have reached your destination.”

20 Sep

Two train journeys resulted in two charming examples of humanity yesterday. The first involved me, the second I only observed.

Prejudice of a Stranger

As I inched towards the edge of my seat, the train dawdled into my station stop. The aisle was crowded, so I waited for my opportune moment to slink into the queue of people waiting to escape the morning rush. An odd looking man, short and stout with black spiky hair, wearing glasses that enlarged his eyes upon his doughy face and a scruffy denim jacket nodded in indication that he was letting me go in front of him. Nothing out of the ordinary, I smiled graciously and muttered a “Thank you”.

But life didn’t want to leave it there. The man spluttered some nonsensical gibberish behind me, sounding something like “aam lark om hearin”. Prejudice’s acidic bile began to gurgle in the pit of my stomach as the realisation that today it was my turn to end up lumped with the lunatic on the train. Brilliant. Then he repeated his phrase again, spitting out each syllable with acute concentration. “I like your earrings.”

My earrings were the symbol of the cross, and so he reached out his arm to reveal a bracelet adorned with the simple Christian sign of the fish. “Am a Chrithtian too,” he said, “but they’re ferry fashionable too, those hearins.”

Ok, so this man may be the village idiot, unable to speak properly or pronounce certain consonants, but at least he’s kind. No more did fear bubble within me so much. I thanked him for his compliments, and turned my back on him hoping once and for all, that would be the end of this episode. The platform seemed miles away, and the awkward tension around me thickened each passing second.

The man spluttered over a new sentence this time, asking me whether I was a student or not. I answered “yes”. No elaboration needed, and I thought this was wise. The less I speak the more likely it is he’ll get the idea to leave me alone. The man thought otherwise.

“What ahh you st-studyin?” was his next conversation starter.

“English Literature” I replied, irritated by his persistence.

“Where?”

“Hull.”

“I st-studied science dere.”

I tried to cover the blow to my prejudice that had just occurred from the expression on my face. How could this man, that I had deemed the village idiot in my mind, turn out to be a scientist to have studied at the same university as myself?

“Oh, really?” was all I could summon in response to this discovery.

“Yeth. B-but now am doin a masters at Leeds, to… err… t-treat children wiv canther.”

For the first time I looked at this man with intrigue and bemusement. Tucked under his left arm were four or five medical text books.

The train came to a final stop, and as we shuffled our way onto the platform he wished me a good day, and good luck with my studies. I returned the gesture, and smiled as he walked off in his half-mast trousers, and far too visible long red socks. It humbled me to see that I still live in a world where my own prejudices on humanity can be proven wrong, and I can only hope that the human race can continue to spectacularly confirm its brilliance to me every day.

Comfort Thy Neighbour

Munching on a packet of salt and vinegar Snack-a-Jacks while waiting for my late night train to pick me up and take me back to the comfort of my home, all I had on my mind was what I was going to have for tea, what might be worth a watch on the telly that night, and whether the dishes would be done when I got in.

Those mundane, daily thoughts were obviously not along the same lines as the troubling concerns of the middle-aged lady stood on the platform beside me. She was glued to her mobile, and between thoughts of microwave meals and Who Do You Think You Are? I caught snippets of her conversation.

“It should be treatable.”

“We’ve all got to stay strong.”

“It’s devastating.”

“I couldn’t believe it, because he’s always been so careful.”

As the train squealed to a halt in front of us, her conversation drew to a close and she began to cry. I sat down at a table across from where she was sitting, and two younger, blonde women sat themselves at her table too. She wept silently in her little corner, looking so small and helpless. She was clearly also embarrassed by her lack of emotional control so she apologised to the two women sharing her table.

“No need to apologise, will you be alright?” asked the first woman. She was a large framed lady, but dressed immaculately. Her hair was bleached and straightened, she wore a dress and had spent a decent amount of time on her makeup that morning, yet her face was still round and friendly. The second lady looked naturally blonde and was more casually dressed, with bouncy curls and little makeup.

“Yes, I’ll be fine thank you.” This answer did not please the first lady, who was the more confident of the two.

“Are you sure?” she ventured warmly.

“Well…” she searched for those words, and finally they came, “I’ve just found out my son has cancer.” I sympathised with her, having lost relatives and friends from the disease myself. But there was nothing I could have said to comfort her, I was just a stranger after all…

The larger lady reached over to give her a hug, a simple gesture with all the words in it that I would have been afraid to say. For the next hour I watched these two strangers who took it upon themselves and into their own loving hearts to make the poor woman smile, laugh and have hope in life again.

That train journey could have left the mother travelling alone, fear stricken by her son’s disease, desolate and broken. Instead, beautiful humanity stepped in and she expressed her deepest thanks to the young women, “I am so glad that you came and sat next to me on the train today. If you hadn’t, I probably would have cried all the way home.” I hope that one day it will be the case that whenever someone is in need of comfort, they can find it anywhere and from anyone, not just in a stroke of luck on a train.

Humanity At Its Finest

Yesterday restored my faith in simple, everyday humanity. The news is filled with horror and violence, and people constantly complain that there is no good left in the world. I say this is wrong, you just have to take notice of the little, important things day by day. So next time on your daily commute, see what you can find.

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