Today, along with a transit station full of others, I witnessed a man in need.
Coming from a friend’s birthday celebration, bicycle pannier laden with the bounty of leftover strawberries and asparagus, I arrived on the platform happy and contented. Then I noticed a white man in an orange shirt that read “Viva la Revolución” in the tracks on one side of the station. He was speaking to a gathered crowd. Some tried to talk with him, to get him to come up. Others shouted for help from the station agent. Still others were calling emergency services. A woman shouted, “The train is coming!” Looking for a place to park my bike, I ran toward the man, as I watched another man reach toward him. The man on the tracks reached up – the two men’s hands were almost touching – as the train entered the station, bellowing at us all with great blasts from its horn. The orange shirted white man pulled his hand back and ducked beneath the lip of the platform. The train, brakes squealing, halted two feet from his body.
Then the man on the tracks sprang up again, and began pacing back and forth, telling us why he was there. He was intelligent. Coherent. Cogent. And a little bit crazy. He spoke eloquently of Occupying the train station, of the bail out of wall street, of sleeping on the streets for six years, of the slow wearing down of the working class… When the police arrived, he spoke to them about bringing their guns into poor neighborhoods, of young black men being shot down, and our homeless being ticketed for minor infractions, while the system grinds on and on.
The man in the orange shirt told us his name was Michael.
The system grinds on and on. We feed it. Michael was at his own edge, and certainly at ours. He was in rebellion. The person who had offered a hand to lift him up knelt on the platform. I crouched beside him, hands open and outstretched, taking in Michael’s words, looking into his eyes whenever he passed in front of me. People exited the stopped train. The platform became packed with people filming, shouting, and more police arriving. Some of us just held the space. The man in the orange shirt kept on, speaking an endless stream of words, telling us all what we already knew: some things are not right. Some things must change.
The ugly crack of a ratcheting rifle sounded like a shot in the enclosed space. Michael began to run, chased by police, who tackled him to the concrete. The fire brigade streamed down the stairs, but it was already over.
Except it wasn’t. It isn’t.
The man who had tried to help spoke with me. I said it broke my heart. A young woman came closer to talk, needing to process the pain and worry she felt. We all shook hands and introduced ourselves. Then the trains started moving again. We parted ways.
Some people called the man on the tracks an asshole for disrupting everyone’s lives. Some will only think he is crazy. I feel grateful for him. Sometimes we need a strong reminder to break through inertia. Is it crazy to try to stop a moving train? It certainly isn’t prudent. It isn’t wise. But neither is the train we’re on: the trajectory of waste, greed, killing, alienation, oppression, bigotry, hatred, and despair.
Sometimes we have to decide where and when we stand and say, “Enough.”
photo by Lola Chavez
What boundaries do we draw and whom do we include? Who are our prophets and whom do we ignore? Are we so busy rushing to make ends meet, so overwhelmed by all the urgency of need in the world that we fail to stop long enough to listen for the voice of deep connection that wells up from our souls? When is it time to stop our own train?
When is it time to take the offered hand and climb up from the tracks, to live and try another day?
The world is built one moment at a time.