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The Girl On The Train


Last week we did a bit of travelling, and found ourselves in the inevitable position of having to be in close proximity to someone having an emotionally charged phone call (one of the numerous reasons I believe the benefits of not having a mobile phone way outweigh the benefits of having one).

EmpathyFrom where we were sitting, we had the vantage to observe the other passengers' reactions as they conspicuously pretended to not be aware of the crying lass begging into her phone, asking her ex-partner to not take their child away.

I leaned over to Mim and said I wished I could give her a hug and tell her everything would be alright in the end. If I had've been on my own, I would have sat next to her and attempted to offer some comfort when she finished her call.

Mim later commented that there must be some learned social behaviour that strips individuals within groups from acting on their own, and I think that the train car full of people sitting with masks of dispassion whilst a living person was obviously going through an immensely painful experience mere metres away was a pretty good argument.

The situation (so far as we were able to extrapolate) was that this person's relationship had recently ended, her now ex-partner didn't want to have anything to do with her anymore, and he was planning to or had just left the country, taking their child. The girl on the train, as most parents would, believed that the child should stay with her. Presumably the father shared a similar belief.

I have no desire to comment on the specifics of the situation, and in fact, the only reason I am mentioning them at all is to highlight how obvious the awkwardness of the situation and  the difficulty that the girl was experiencing was to all of us within earshot.

After some time, the phone calls ended (with no apparent resolution), and the girl sobbed uncontrollably into her hands for ten minutes before leaving to stand near the carriage's exit.

CompassionI'd like to believe that I was about to get up and offer a stranger's hope and best wishes, but as that didn't happen, I really can't say for sure. Whilst thinking about how I would approach the situation, Mim started shifting in her chair, took a deep breath, grabbed a packet of tissues from her bag and stood up.

I don't know that I have ever felt prouder of Mim than when she walked over to the girl on the train, gave her a hug, and offered her some tissues.

It's often interesting to examine our motivations in situations like this. I saw a person in pain and my heart went out to them. Mim said she acted partly out of rational thought coming our of her studies of ethics, and partly to avoid the guilt of having done nothing. I think that both of us felt a degree of apprehension, and I can only assume that that, combined with the apparent safety of staying within their own group of people (the only individuals we saw on the train were all asleep) was what kept everyone else within their seats.

Mim says that she felt that her actions were rewarding, and having done similar things in the past, I'd definitely agree.

HugIn the moment, we act without knowing what consequences time might construe, and it is most likely that we will never know what impact Mim's actions may have had for the girl on the train.

Girl on the train, where ever you are, we hope that things seem better for you.

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Date Posted:
 25th April 2011
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