The Cry of Humanity

Subways in cities are a microcosm of our world. In an enclosed space with graffiti and advertisements for art, we bump into, and sit by, complete strangers. It is in subway cars that languages from all over the world blend together, a verbal match to the rhythm of the train, and every shade of skin color is present. You never know if you are sitting next to a soon-to-be Nobel prize winner or someone who can barely make it to the next day.

Except sometimes you do – because sometimes the person is so drunk that they teeter across the moving train and fall against you.

Sometimes the person is so mentally ill that if you make eye contact you will face burning rage that reveals itself through a nonsensical tirade.

Other times the person is violently lashing out and your heart beats a little faster, wondering if now is the time to pull the emergency lever. 

It’s these times that there are clear distinctions between the sane and the insane; between the ‘broken’ and the ‘whole’; between the drunk woman and the rest of the car.

It was like this the other day. The sane and sober watched as a drunk woman took the stage on the ride home. She alternated between angry belligerence and tearful grief. She stumbled and fell, held up by the sober man who was with her. Her face spoke a hard life with mascara and lipstick smeared, premature wrinkles, and a glazed hard shell over her eyes.

What grieved me was the laughter and mockery her performance yielded. It was human on human attack and inside and outside I cringed. There was no effort made to hide it; she was a person to be mocked and avoided.

But what resonated to my core were her words just before we reached my stop. Sobbing she looked at the man with her and said “Just let me go! Let me cry! Let me be. You don’t care anyway!” 

The words struck me as the cry of humanity – a cry that pushes away, that can’t receive comfort, that, despite the tears and sorrow, wants to go it alone. The cry that reminds me of a two-year old “Do by self!” — emphatic in its scream of independence.

The cry of humanity that every one of us on the subway understood, but that most of us have learned to disguise.

The woman pushed away at the man who was with her the way I push away at God.

Let me go! Let me cry! Let me do it my way! Let me be! You don’t care anyway. The cry of all of us really. The cry of humanity that has echoed to the Heavens since time began. 

The man wouldn’t be put off. He held her as she pushed back. He took the punching and the hitting and spoke softly to her. He stood tall as she fell against him, finally defeated, finally realizing that yes – she did in fact need him. She couldn’t have taken two steps without his support, his strength,his sobriety.

And the rest watched – mocking.

We got off at the same stop. I went one way. They went the other – the woman leaning on her support as he walked her toward the exit.

It struck me that despite appearance, they may be the two sanest people in that subway car. The one – who realized despite her drunken state, that she was desperate for support; the other – determined to stay with her and support her through the ride.

These two, broken and exposed, illustrated in virtual reality both the cry of humanity and the answer to that cry. 

21 thoughts on “The Cry of Humanity

  1. You have expressed the emotions, the tragedy, the dilemma of humanity so beautifully. It touched my heart. At the end of the post I fell in love with the drunk woman and her companion. As you say they appear to be the sanest.

    Yes! when we share a ride on the public transport we see so many different stories and often times I can’t help wonder what the real story is behind them.
    Often times, we see others mocking the odd one out. But maybe its their way of trying to fit in with the rest of the humanity.


    1. Oh I do the same …. always wondering what the real story is. I recently met a man who was homeless for 20 years. I would never have believed it had he not told me. He frequented the area where I now work for 20 years… is a picture of redemption.


  2. What a sad experience. It’s too bad no one reached out to offer a hand to the man who was with her. That would have counteracted, in some small way, the laughter and mocking taking place all around him and his companion.


    1. Elizabeth – thanks for commenting on that aspect. It often feels so tricky – and yet is that because I tell myself it is? A crowded car, hard to move, belligerence, a bit of fear, following the crowd…..all of it mixes together and affects responses. As I headed got off I headed toward them to help but they and I were separated by a crowd. These scenes stay in your mind and of course they happen every day.


  3. thank you, Marilyn, a heart-wrenching experience, and you really opened your heart in this post. I wonder, if that woman had been alone, with no one to hold her up, would anyone have stepped up to help her? It truly is the “cry of humanity” in our helpless condition. Thank God – He has not left us in our wretched condition!


    1. That is such a good and hard question. I asked myself that while I was there. I’ve seen other things on the street that break my heart. Sometimes I’m in a place I can step in, more often I’m not. And your last sentence is Truth.


    1. Oh so true. There is this poignant part in the book Disappointment With God at the end that tells of a son who in a rage killed his father one day. Later on that night, in a small cell at a juvenile detention center, the guard heard the child sobbing “I want my father! I want my father”. It never fails to affect me.


  4. This is a courageous post Marilyn. If only we all could have this understanding and compassion for our fellow man. When we have had the experience of our own “crying out”, our eyes are opened, and we see the need for compassion and love. We can answer the cry of humanity, if only to offer a prayer of hope and love for those in pain.


    1. Yes to the “prayer of hope and love for those in pain!” I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the animal world and the contrast between the animal and human world that you see.


    1. It’s so true Petra. And it is really tricky. On a moving train when someone is lashing out there is a vulnerability. Sometimes I think that the mockery is protection. It’s not right, but there it is.


    1. Thank you Lois. I remember years ago when you said you weren’t getting a washer and dryer because going to the laundromat kept you connected to a whole other world….same thing is true with subways and cities I think.


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