Month: November 2002

Civility

Posted by – November 22, 2002

One evening after a rough day at work in downtown Boston, I hopped onto a subway for my commute home. The train wasn’t too crowded so I quickly found a seat and took my book and walkman out of my backpack. An African American woman and her daughter walked into the train and sat down two seats to my left. I stopped what I was doing and watched the little girl for a few seconds. She reminded me of Olivia from the Cosby Show, you know Denise’s step-daughter in the later years– just a precious face with big cheeks and a spark of light in her eyes. Absolutely adorable. She danced and jumped around near me for a few minutes until her mother called her back over to her seat.

Across from me sat two heavy metal looking guys, one wearing a black leather jacket and a black trench coat, the other wearing a denim jacket with patches and black marker all over it. Both had long dark hair and nose rings. They looked like they were in the same band, but spent most of their day getting high instead of practicing. Standing up to my right was a sharp dressed businessman, he looked like a lawyer, or something of that nature. His shoes looked like they had been recently shined and his cufflinks looked like they cost more than my entire outfit. He didn’t seem to fit in and I remember wondering why a guy like that was taking public transportation.

Just before the doors to the train began to close, a blind woman and her seeing eye dog walked up the three stairs to the train. As soon as they were in, the conductor closed the doors and we were off. By this time the train was pretty packed so the African American woman politely asked the blind woman if she would like her seat.

“There’s nothing wrong with my legs, it’s my eyes that don’t work!” the blind woman angrily replied.

The train went silent as everyone lifted their noses from their reading material and glanced over at the pair.

“There’s no need to be snippy, ma’am, I was simply asking if you’d like to sit down,” the African American woman shot back.

“What you were doing was feeling bad for me. You were being prejudicial and it was rude.”

“Okay, I get the point. You wanna stand, you can stand.”

The blind woman was foaming at the mouth. “I walk three miles a day, but because I’m blind, you assume that I can’t stand during a ten minute train ride. Don’t judge me! Do I judge you because you’re BLACK?”

Chatter and odd looks filled the train. Not only could she stand, but she could also determine someone’s race from listening to their voice. Impressive, but probably not a good idea to play that card.

“Hey Lady, relax!” yelled one of the heavy metal guys at the blind woman. “Yeah, chill the fuck out, dude!” yelled the other.

The African American woman was pretty pissed now. “Lady, I don’t give a damn if you’re blind! What I do care about is that you’re one angry old hag. Don’t take your anger out on me because I offered you a seat. Don’t you dare talk to me like I’m a child!”

The next two minutes were like being in the middle of a minimum security jailbreak — not really scary, but still way out of control. The heavy metal guys were shouting “Fight! Fight! Fight!” and laughing at one another. The lawyer looked like he was mentally preparing his opening remarks for the trial. The Arican American woman and the blind woman continued to scream vicious insults at one another while everyone else on the train looked at one another with faces of shock, amusement and fear. Then, just as it seemed like all hell was breaking loose, a tiny little voice rose above all of the mayhem.

“Calm down! Calm down! Everyone just calm down!”

It was the adorable little girl. She was standing in the middle of the train waving her hands in the air and shouting at her mother and the blind woman to calm down. Her mother stopped in mid-insult. The heavy metal guys stood up to see who was yelling and then sat down, looking embarrassed. As soon as the train went dead silent, the little girl smiled and did a little dance.

Instantly, every single person on that train, realized the same thing — we had all just been out-matured by a little girl who couldn’t have been older than six.

I left that train knowing that this nation was in good hands– if not better.

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