“Did you get the offer?” the woman said.
I noticed her because her jacket was not zipped. Having secured myself a seat on the Red Line at rush hour, at each stop, I glanced around to see who was standing in front of me. I like to do this to make sure I am not the jerk who is keeping a pregnant woman or an elderly person from sitting. She held her phone to her left ear, her jacket ajar and letting in the bitter January air.
“Oh, so you did not NOT get the offer?”
I looked at her again. Her head was thrown back, tears twinkling at the corner of her eyes.
She continued with her conversation, and I, completely ignoring my book, glanced up every few seconds. The tears were gone, but there was worry on her face as she tried to understand the person on the phone.
This put me at a crossroads. I could pretend I didn’t notice her emotion and keep reading, or I could say something. It’s easiest to ignore, right? It’s none of my business. I don’t know her. I really don’t know what’s going on.
She ended the call, saying they would discuss it further when she got home, and with one hand, began jabbing at her phone. She lifted her the device to her head again, as if she was calling someone to repeat what she had just heard. My moment to inject had passed.
There is the Bing commercial from years ago featuring brave women – Gabby Gifford, Malala Yousafzai, Margaret Thatcher – but the part that always makes me cry, even now when I rewatched, is the highlight of Antionette Tuff. When a gunman with a AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition walked into a school, Antionette was able to talk him down. Not a single person was injured that day. I often think about the bravery and empathy Antionette has, how there was likely a voice telling her to not get involved but she did and it saved hundreds of people’s lives.
Now, I am not sure that I have that kind of courage, but I do know that when presented with an opportunity to engage in ripe humanity and empathy, I want to be the kind of person who embraces it. I want to be the kind of person who is polite to the cashier. I want to be the person who brings you food even though you said you were fine. And, I want to be the person who comforts a stranger who is crying on the train.
A couple of conversations this past week have made me look hard at what it is that I really want in my life. I was told to name the specifics of my life three years from now: the kind of house I would own, the types of books I would write, and the joy I would embrace from being my best self. It was scary and stressing and afterwards I hunted for chocolate to ease the uncomfort.
But when that woman on the train did not enter into another conversation, the person on the other end not picking up, I knew I was given a second chance to either say something or ignore. There are times when I have not acted like the person I wanted to be, leaving friends and strangers alike alone, and I know I can’t always be there for everyone, but this moment was fresh and it was an opportunity.
“Excused me,” I said, setting my book down in my lap. “I don’t mean to be forward but are you OK?”
“Yes. Yes. Yes.
“OK,” I nodded and smiled. She paused for a second and then told me that her girlfriend was soon going to be offered a job in another city.
“It’s a good thing, but it’s also sad.”
“It is,” I replied.
Our exchanged last a few more seconds as she got off at the next top and I wished her well.
I share this story not to brag, but to remind myself of what it feels like to ignore that throbbing NO and invite the small yes into existence. I share this to remind myself that, in this way and in all ways, I have the power to be who I want to be.