Yesterday, while I rode the BART train downtown, a woman tried to get her 2-year-old to sit in his stroller. He was crying and wriggling around and the woman was getting more and more incensed, shoving him into the stroller, whacking him on the legs, picking him up, hurling him back into the seat again, hitting him on the back, hard, over and over again…
We all watched this scene frozen in our seats, eyes wide, shocked, not knowing what to say. Finally, a man walked slowly up the aisle, kneeled down beside her, and said calmly, “I know this is a frustrating situation for you, but you can’t hit him.”
She began to cry then, and stuttered through an explanation about how the child was hitting her and he won’t get in his seat, etc.
The man repeated, very gently and very matter of factly, “I understand this is frustrating for you, and you can’t hit him.”
She stopped. The baby stopped crying. And then she got off the train.
Through the hot tears that poured down my face as I left, I felt so grateful for this man for teaching me something so important, so fundamental and beautiful about how to serve… I didn’t know what to say, if it was my “place” to say anything, if this woman would get even more angry if I did. And so I was silent.
It made me think of all of the places in my life where I’m not saying anything, and maybe I should be. It made me think of the war, and how we are watching this violence, sometimes like silent bystanders, amazed and horrifed that it’s even happening.
It made me think that someone needs to kneel beside our world leaders and say, “Hey. I know this is a frustrating situation, but you can’t hit them.”
This is a really valuable experience you have made there, and I am very happy for the feelings you have had. It sounds cruel, because your feelings were sort of bitter, but it is exactly this ability which seems so many people are lacking in our societies. Kneeling down next to that woman and doing what this man did is an absolutely “brave” thing, but it roots in the awareness of observing that “something is not o.k.” and running against our moral/ethical/whatever values – and far too many people are lacking even this awareness which should be so selfunderstood. What I mean is – you’re on the way, next time it will be you being so brave and setting a sign for others.
I had another situation some weeks ago – I, too, was riding the underground and a woman kept pushing from behind, because she wanted to overtake. The subway was crowded. She kept on pushing, not saying a word. When I did not react, she boxed my side and it hurt. I turned around and told her in a slightly loud but friendly voice that she cannot push and box me, and that it’s not asked too much to open her mouth and ask me to step aside (apart from the fact that I was running into two boys). She started shouting me for being rude, while everyone else, witnessing, looked at us in shock, but not saying a word. I let the woman pass, telling her once more that it was her being rude and that people cannot act that way, while she just shouted the more. So, with an adrenaline rush, I kept riding until my station and I felt like the biggest idiot on earth that I told that simpleton woman that she is not playing with the rules. Why? Because everyone else just stared at me, but did nothing. Still, I know I was right telling her and I wished for many others to be courageous and speak out.
Thanks for these words. May more people be filled with grace and courage like that man. I want to be a strong person like that too!
when in comes to people and their kids, it’s so hard to know what do to, but we always have to remember the the kids can’t really speak up for themselves. So what if you make an ass of yourself, or if another adult yells at you. you’ve got to help.
I will try to burn that man’s words into my head and remember them for when I need them.
The guy on the train DID take a chance, and he happened to get through to the angry woman. Your fear of making the situation worse is completely well founded. I grew up in a violent family, and whenever anybody told either of my parents to STOP, we, the children, copped more of their anger than ever before, and only then, it was anger mingled with shame, humiliation and frustration. Not a good combination. It’s great to speak out, but it’s also good to be pragmatic and listen to your instincts about when to speak. It wasn’t the right time for you to speak out, but it was the right time for that man to speak to that woman. Silence isn’t always complicity, and words aren’t always action and balm.
I have been in the situation… twice. Both times at the grocery store when we lived in San Francisco. Both times I tried to help. Offer some kind of moment of peace. Once she stopped and listened to me. The other time the woman took her fury and sent it my way. Would I do it again? Yes. Would you now? Probably. Life is messy and we have to get in the mud with each other. I am proud that you felt. Just having a feeling towards the situation puts you in the emotional class of angels. Feel right about what you did, sweetie, because your time to step up will come.
thank you andrea. that was beautiful.
Thank you Andrea Scher for being open enough to say what you feel. I read this and my eyes filled with tears instantly; not simply for that precious little child, but for his mother. For the beauty of the man who had the courage to speak with kindness, truth and compassion when his heart told him it needed to be done. And because sometimes I too wonder just how to address the expression of what my heart knows needs to be addressed…
Wow. I second what Kelli said. This is one of the most beautiful and poignant things I have read recently, and it also brought tears to my eyes, for all the reasons Kelli stated above. Thank you for this beautiful writing.