07 January 2015

Will I Ever Learn?

Our inability to remember important life lessons never ceases to amaze me and it was demonstrated to me in the clearest of light last night. Sometimes these moments can take a little while to relate. This is a little bit longer post, so settle in.

It was a long day in Manhattan yesterday, exacerbated by lightly falling snow, a snappy, and not in a good way either, chill in the air, and an unpleasant slog down to endlessly depressing Penn Station at the end of the day to catch some "Theater of Cruelty" service at the hands of our national passenger rail provider. You'll be shocked, shocked I tell you, to know that my train was, wait for it, late in departing. I know, I know, talk about unexpected (and if you believe that, I'm sure Fox News' assessment that the metric system brought down Air Asia #8501 is completely plausible). A late departure meant making my connection in New Haven was going to be dicey as that connection is, in my sad experience, mostly NOT held for the late inbound train. With that in mind, I was sure I was ready to bounce off the train as soon as we hit New Haven so I could bound across the platform and get on my connecting train, assuming it was still there.

As we approached New Haven, my plan was thwarted by a young woman who stood in the aisle blocking the rest of us from moving toward the door. She wasn't budging. My patience was immediately sapped and my alter ego, Judgy Judgerson, made an appearance. Unkind thoughts, yes, let's describe them as that, filled my mind as I waited for her to pick up her bag and move. She did not do so until we came to a complete stop, which was maddening (um, lady, it's a train - no flight attendant was going to shout you down for getting out of your seat before coming to a complete stop). She began to shuffle slowly while those ahead of her were long gone. My displeasure was at 11. And then it happened. I noticed she was moving slowly because of an awkward gait, and with her hand atrophied, I recognized it immediately as some kind of palsy and knew then that my reservation in Hell was now a lock. As she got to the door of the train and seeing the wider than expected gap, she asked me if I could spot her. Feeling sufficiently and rightfully awful, I told her I would do her one better. I grabbed her bag and went out the adjacent door so I could take her by both arms and help her across. That's what I did and I asked her if she needed anything else and she said no. So I made my way across the platform, noticing only then that the connecting train was also late (I know you're stunned). It showed up shortly thereafter and I sat down in a window seat to ponder why I had gotten so irritated so quickly.

As I sat lost in my thoughts, I heard a woman ask if she the seat next to me was open. Turning to say yes, I saw that it was that same young woman. Certainly, I said. She took her seat and we were off. About midway through the trip, she got up to use the restroom (her funeral). I know this because she told the person that she was talking to on her cell phone that is what she was going to do. While she was gone, another woman stood in aisle across from our seats, prattling on to the lady seated there about her failing business. This was 'delightful' banter that none of us needed to hear. None. Of. Us. She would not move as my seatmate came up and just as she approached our row, the train swerved as it is wont to do, and this poor young woman was flipped over the seats, landing with her head wedged between the seat in front of me and the front of my knees. For a split second, I hardly knew what to do. She immediately began apologizing and I kept telling her she had nothing to apologize for. It was apparent though as I tried to move, she was pretty stuck. Another passenger got up, pushing aside the rude woman who was still prattling on about her retail woes and seeming annoyed that this turn of events had interrupted her story, and he managed to get my stuck seatmate by her good arm and as he lifted, I pushed up and we got her up. She could not have been more apologetic. I know she had to be absolutely mortified. I kept reassuring her that she had nothing to worry about.

She sat quietly for the rest of the ride, as did I. All the while, I kept pondering my initial reaction to her on the other train. As we approached Hartford, I asked her if she'd been to this particular station before and she said no. Knowing that this station is not a walk off to the platform, but requires descending the steep steps from the train, I told her I'd like to help her off. I took her bag and guided her to the end of the car. When she saw the steps, she took a deep breath but fortunately, a conductor was there as well to help her. I then walked with her to the elevator and it was there that we parted ways. She apologized once more, for which I once again said there was no need and she slipped away with a simple thank you. That thank you was when i will long appreciate.

As I drove home, I thought about had she heard the thoughts in my head on that first train, she never would have sat down next to me on that connecting train. I wouldn't have had the opportunity to help her out and try and make up for an offense she wasn't even aware I had committed. About thirty years ago, while on my mission in Miami, I had an experience with another young woman afflicted with a palsy who I judged too quickly, and just as wrongly as I had done last night. I learned all those years ago how so not cool that 'Judgy Judgerson' side of me is.

You'd think at my age I'd have learned to reign him in. Last night showed me I still have some learning to do. I hope I won't forget this experience any time soon.

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