Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Presence of Mind

Just before 1pm, I was walking to the train station by my house. As I slid my card through the turnstile, a crowd of people rushed to the station agent screaming. "There are people on the track, a train is coming, ya gotta stop it!" I looked up to see the 1 train had indeed stopped, about a quarter of the way in the station. Unfortunately it had already run over the men. We rushed over to see what had happened; standing nearby was a young woman and a girl both in tears. Another woman asked what had happened. Apparently one man had been having a seizure, when he fell onto the tracks. The second man dove down to get him, when the train ran over them both. The Good Samaritan was the father of the young girl (and, I learned later, father to the young woman as well). Hearing this, the older woman went over to the train. "Are you okay?" she called down. One of the men responded. "Hear that?" she asked the girl, "He's okay." She had him speak a few more times, each time looking at the crying girl. "Hear that? He's okay."
By this point there were a million cops on the scene, followed soon thereafter by fireman. The Good Samaritan reassured everyone that he and the other guy were fine. A crowd began leaving the train, rubber-necking as they passed the sight, or stopping to watch and who could blame them? Those of us on the platform had at least SOME idea of what had happened. I wanted to see that both men were okay, but realized that I was not helping the situation by standing around gawking.
I spent my bus ride downtown, and most of the afternoon close to tears, not a common experience for me, despite my emotional Celtic nature. It wasn't really the thought of death; I believed both men were going to be all right. It was more the sense that I had glimpsed people rising to an occasion, seeing people in trouble and responding lovingly without a seconds thought. It wasn't just the heroism of the man who saved the young guy's life, though that was obviously an incredibly brave act. It wasn't just the crowd of people who tried to stop the train when they saw the men fall. I found myself thinking again and again of the woman who kept telling the little girl, "Hear that? He's okay." I think all of us there wanted to help, and were frustrated by the fact that there really wasn't anything we could do; the experts were already on the scene, we were mostly just in the way. But that woman found something. She had the presence of mind and insight to see a need and fill it. Maybe what she did doesn't seem like much, but if you were eight years old and thought you had just seen your father killed, wouldn't you want some reassurance? I'm 40 years old, didn't know this guy from Adam's off-ox and I wanted to know he was okay. The rescue workers were all doing their jobs getting the two men to safety, they didn't have time to notice one little girl was confused, frightened and suffering. That woman couldn't get the men to safety either. But she did what she could.
If you want to know more, go here. I was so relieved to be able to learn the whole story. Bottom line, the young guy having the seizure is in stable condition at the hospital. The Good Samaritan walked away without a scratch. I wish I knew that woman's name.

Next day: So this story has made the national news wires. Closest I've ever brushed up against an event of this nature. Since this is all about me after all.

Wesley Autry, the Good Samaritan, seems to be a stand-up guy in general. He doesn't see what all the fuss is about.

Two Days Later: Still mulling over some things... first one: you know all that hallmark card, movie of the week stuff about "people pulling together in a crisis to help each other" I tried to avoid but still ended up talking about above? When one is in the experience, that compassion and fellow feeling is palpable. It's an energy that seems almost physical. Two: the fact that this happened in the subway is particularly significant for me. That is not a place I associate with compassion and fellow feeling. Particularly during rush hour, most of us put on our "too many people in my space" armor. Our faces go dead and mannequin-like, we avoid eye contact, we ignore the panhandlers, suspecting (probably with reason) that more than a few of them are scam artists. I tend to love looking at faces, and find beauty in a wide variety of them, but usually on the train I feel I might as well be looking at dinner plates, or pet rocks or something. There just isn't anyone at home in those faces; it's probably true of my face as well. Those moments when something charming or sweet happens on the train and we drop our masks, it's lovely, and it does happen sometimes. But this, this was something else. Like I said, I think most of us wished we could be more help. Mostly we were freaked out, upset, and frustrated. But the desire alone meant some kind of group energy was created. And maybe we already knew that we had just witnessed something brave and miraculous.


Anonymous said...

Dearest -
I can't get over that this man, who "doesn't know what all the fuss is about" is being called the "Subway Superman"
having just watched Superman a couple of nights ago....I have to say that I agree. He did the thing many people would not have the presence of mind to do. I was Superman.
And that woman...whom I agree is an integral part of the daughters surviving the experience in their own way, is also a hero.

Brian said...

Wow - I saw this on the news this morning, but missed where it happened. Quite a story.