03 May 2010

Riding the A-line

Sitting on the A-line the other day was an elderly man whose shaggy white hair reminded me of Doc, the mad scientist from Back to the Future. What struck me even more was that half his left ear was missing. His back was to me, but I could easily see it was a clean cut and that it that ran diagonally from the top of the outer ear nearly down to his lobe.
What a strange thing to live with, I thought; an attention-getter for sure, and no doubt a constant source of stares from curious onlookers.  Like me.

Was it a war wound? Did he run with gangs in his youth? I even heard the makings of a cruel joke forming in my head, something about going to a blind barber one too many times. Or maybe he had cancer and the doctors were simply snipping away the bad parts bit by bit.
As the train pulled into the Gratte-Ciel station he stood up and began feeling his way to the door, tapping his red-tipped cane on the floor in front of him. That's when I realized he was also blind. Before the subway car stopped completely and before the doors slid open, he had bumped, rather hard, into the man standing in front of him.
I don't have much experience riding the world's subways, except for Lyon and in Paris, but what I've noticed is that people here pretty much keep to themselves. It's rare when someone will engage the crazy man in conversation, or ask the rowdy young boys to put out their cigarettes, or just open up and talk to a complete stranger for no other reason than to connect with someone else.  People riding the subway seem to abide by the same unwritten law that says nobody should ever talk in an elevator.
The man who got bumped from behind turned and without hesitating took the blind man by the arm, walked him gently out of the subway and, still holding onto him, asked how he wanted to exit - elevator or escalator.
Before I could hear the blind man's response, the doors of the subway slid closed and the crowd of people coming and going swirled about the two men.  But they stood their ground, talking.  The one man was nodding his head and using a lot of hand gestures, which probably didn't do the blind man any good, but it was clear that they managed to share something.  As the subway pulled away into the dark tunnel, I noticed both men were smiling.

This is so cool, I thought, people helping people. No questions asked. No conditions. No 'I'll  help you if you help me'.  Just respect, with the audacity to extend one's hand...and the courage to accept it.


Debbie Ringo said...

An eloquent reminder that we are all here to help one another in both small and large ways.

mila said...

great post alex, really enjoyed reading it