What started as a tense moment on Vancouver’s SkyTrain earlier this month ended in a lesson about the benefits of compassion and not judging those around us.
The story started when a man boarded a train car in Vancouver and began swearing and “acting really aggressively,” according to fellow commuters. Everyone was scared at first, believing that the man was likely suffering from a mental illness or drug abuse. In what has since been described as an ‘incredible display of humanity,’ a 70-year-old woman walked over and reached out her hand to the man, despite his aggressive behavior and profanity. She tightly gripped his hand until he calmed down and sat next to her, with tears in his eyes. For nearly 20 minutes the woman sat with him, her touch and presence calming him, until he got off at his stop, saying only “thanks grandma.”
The whole time she didn’t let go.
Afterwards the woman, a mother of two sons of similar age to the enraged man, said, “He just needed someone to touch.”
A fellow commuter who witnessed the touching display, Ehab Taha, was so moved by the incident he posted the story on Facebook, and called for people to “not fear or judge the stranger on the train: life does not provide equal welfare for all its residents.”
Indeed, life is not equal and the woman recognized the situation for what it was: A fellow human being in desperate need of compassion. Perhaps as compelling as her kindness was the woman’s ability to recognize how a seemingly small gesture, the touch of another person, could diffuse such a potentially hostile situation. After all, the man had a pen in his hand that could have become a weapon. Without regard for her own safety, she did something that quite possibly saved lives that day – she reached for his hand to comfort him in his time of distress.
From the time we are small children we recognize that both good and bad things happen in life. While some things can be chalked up to bad luck, others may be brought on by our own willful and ill-advised acts. Regardless of what brought that man to his state of despair that day on the train, a kind, loving gesture pulled him back from the brink.
It’s reassuring to know that whatever paths our lives happen to be on – whether, as Ignatius J. Reilly believes, our wheel of fortune is on an upswing or a downswing - there are people out there like the 70-year-old woman who instinctively know all we might need is a comforting touch.
It’s important to go through our daily lives remembering that many people endure hardships the rest of us are completely oblivious to. People struggle.
Maybe kindness is all we need in this world. And maybe, just maybe, no simple gesture is ever too small.
So here’s to the unnamed woman who touched one man and wound up touching us all.