#797: Just Keep Walking

May 31st, 2017

I wanted to say this to the woman crying on the train, I really did.

I wanted to say something akin to “Don’t worry, kid. It’s OK.”

But is that trying to be a white knight in a situation where I should just let a young woman be? Is that not trusting her with her own emotional imperative? Is that kindness or sexism? I wouldn’t tell a woman walking down the street to smile. Why should I tell a woman on her morning commute it’s OK to cry?

These were my thoughts. I’m not using this as a way to mock feminism or modern gender views I’ve learned from Twitter. I just wanted to know if being kind would hurt the crying woman.

She was young and pretty, and her tears weren’t sobs. She just swiped obsessively through her phone exactly like everyone else of every age on the train, earbuds firmly implanted and occasionally wiped away the tears streaming from her face. She wasn’t so much sobbing as leaking.

She was leaning against the glass section by the door. I was leaning at the one across from her.

I ran through every excuse not to talk to her. We were too far away. She had her earbuds in. She’d think I was hitting on her. She can handle her own business.

I used the same logic a few weeks ago when two teenagers were roughhousing on State Street and one punched the other in the throat. The second boy fell to the ground. In that split second of city life, I and all the other good-hearted passersby instantly and immediately rushed to mentally justify the fact we all kept walking. We all had our reasons not to see if the boy was OK. We all had our reasons to let the woman with the earbuds just stand and cry.

I hated a nun for years for walking by as I was crying, even wrote a story about it. I hated her for walking past me and stiffening up to pretend she didn’t see me. Comforting is in her job description, right? You don’t get to wear the uniform and go off-shift.

I get that nun more now.

But if I had spoken to the woman, this is what I would have said.

“Hey. Everyone on this train, all hundred or so people packed in this moving room, have been the ones crying in public before. That woman, that guy, me, him. We’ve all been the one people pretended not to see and justified not rushing to comfort. Today it’s your turn. I’m sorry. That sucks.

“It does get better and I know you know that. But it’s like a cold. When you’re well, you can remember what it’s like to be sick. When you’re sick, it’s so hard to remember what it’s like to feel well. I want to remind you. It’s amazing.

“I don’t know what’s going on that’s making you sad. I don’t know if it’s something permanent — like a death — or something so common and forgettable you’ll forget what the argument with your friend was about. Hell, you’re crying so weird this could all be allergies and I just made an ass of myself. But don’t feel bad about crying and don’t feel a need to stop. You’re doing alright, and if anyone on this train is looking at you oddly, don’t be embarrassed. They’re just looking at you and seeing when they were the ones crying in public. They’re running through what they wish people had said and they’re wondering if they should say it.

“I know I am.”

The train doors opened and in the morning commute shoving and gripes, I didn’t see that she slipped out.

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You are currently reading #797: Just Keep Walking by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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