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.