18 June, 2010

We were all mad, hot, tired, hungry. We shoved our way into the already-full train, refusing to accept that there wasn't room for one more in this tangle of humanity. One grey-haired man yelled at a bewildered tourist to get out of the way and let other people on the train. As I shuffled through the doors I lamented the tendency such situations have to bring out the ugliest parts of our nature.

But then I looked up. In front of me, a petite Hispanic woman was calmly pushing through the angry crowd to find a secure place to stand in the train. She said not a word, she gave not a single angry glance; her only concern was with not disturbing the miraculous slumber of the infant she cradled in her left arm. They might as well have been the very Madonna and Child - humbled smiles broke across each passenger's face, and we parted the sea of our bodies enough to make room for the young mother. Though our arms were raised to grasp the hand rails, we bent our elbows and stood on our toes to preserve the halo of space around the slumbering little one.

As the train finally began inching forward, one passenger reported that the delays had been caused by one man despairing of life and throwing himself under an earlier train. Suddenly it seemed petty to be angry about getting home an hour later, or to be angry at other commuters for invading my personal space. At least I was not going home to grieve a sudden loss. At least I was pulled from the point of such despair by the God who went down into death for me. I was suddenly mesmerized by this sleeping baby. Here was a little life that was not yet aware of the things that make people jump into the last abyss. Here was a little one who could sleep amidst the sounds of strife. Here was a child whose mother loved him and was proud of him beyond expression. Dear God, let that child never reach the point of despairing of the life you've given him.

I could see similar thoughts dawning on other passengers. Brows that had been furrowed in frustration ten minutes ago had now relaxed. Tired eyes were no longer burning holes into watches or mobile devices, but were instead resting with admiration on the sleeping baby's face. We could not bring the suicidal man back to life. But here, on this train, for these few minutes, we could help maintain a safe space for this infant and his mother. We could be reminded by looking at him that things are often really not so bad as we think; what is getting home an hour later as long as the people you love more than life are there waiting for you? What is being hot and sweaty on a crowded train when the baby you have borne is soundly resting on your shoulder, unaware - for a little while, anyway - of the sadness of life?

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