I was on the subway this morning, late to a meeting. As I got on, I noticed a man occupying three seats. (He was sitting in one and a half and had his bag on the third.) I had to stand for a bit, until someone else got off, in order to sit. Before someone else got off, I thought about asking him to move his bag, but realized that he seemed to be down on his luck, so decided not to bother him. As I stood up to get off at my stop, he first fell sideways, into the empty seat beside him, and then off the seat entirely, on to the floor. The teenagers near me tittered and got off, but I said, "Sir, sir" to him as loudly as I could muster to try to wake him up. He did not move or appear responsive to me. But I was late for a meeting! And this was my stop! What would you do?I got off the train after seeing that someone else was trying to wake the man, and telling someone in the next car what had happened. By the time I hurriedly left the scene, other responsible citizens were on it. I think that I thought about alerting a subway official, maybe upstairs as I walked out, but I was leaving from an unstaffed entrance, so that didn't happen. Also, it seemed that the train conductor might already be aware of the situation, since the train was delayed in the station. Oh, right! Some other people called out from the open doors, to the conductor, "Someone needs help here!" I think. In any case, by the time I left, it was clear that others were involved and feeling responsible and actually acting on that feeling of responsibility towards their fellow citizen.
This experience so bothered me--mostly that the teenagers would titter and get off the train, although, also, to a lesser extent, that I hadn't stayed to help--that when I heard that a man was lying on the front steps of my apartment building on Thanksgiving afternoon, I rushed down and tried to see if he was okay. Again, I said loudly, "Sir, sir, are you okay?" No response. A fire truck went by and still no response. He was lying there, not moving. I called 9-1-1, but before the call was completed, an ambulance pulled up and some EMTs jumped out. They took his pulse and he didn't move. One of them shook him, and he jumped up immediately and said that he was fine. They asked him where he lived and things like that, and I went back inside to continue my Thanksgiving cooking.
On the next train that I was on, a bit later that day, I saw a credit card on the floor, halfway under a seat. A few people were standing near it; I wasn't sure which of them had dropped it. Then I looked up and saw a woman standing with her wallet open, looking for something in it. It was a somewhat crowded car and there were several people between me and her, but I didn't want her to get off the train with her credit card still on the floor. What would you do?
As you get off the train, you notice that something is dripping out of the plastic bag that the woman in front of you is holding. She seems to be carrying a lot--a backpack, a purse, multiple plastic bags. You have no idea what it is, but it looks pretty gross. Is it really any of your business what's leaking out of someone else's plastic bag? Maybe she knows and doesn't care. What would you do?
This was me. I was crying at Starbucks. That's where I rushed after I got off the first subway, and I was totally emotionally overwhelmed and feeling terrible about being late to my meeting and I just started crying. It was really, really nice that two people (not one, but two!) asked me if I was okay and if there was anything they could do to help.You see someone crying at a Starbucks as she puts milk and sugar into her coffee. What would you do?
Lesson: New York City has a reputation for being large, harsh, and rude, but there can, at times, be something charmingly caring about it. Strangers taking care of strangers, in tiny little ways, every day. If you live here, and see someone in distress or with something dripping, say something. It's what makes living here moderately tolerable!