Rush hour and the subway car is cheek-to-jowl.
I am one of the lucky ones. I have a seat and a good book, a nice wall against the 6pm crowds.
At the next stop, a horde gets on. One of them comes and holds the rail over me. She is about my age. Her hair is long and her clothes are well chosen.
She is not the type I would give my seat to. She can stand fine. But for a reason I don’t know, I ask her, Want to sit?
She looks surprised, suspicious, and still, a little hopeful. Okay, she says cautiously.
I stand, she sits, I go back to my book, wishing I had my seat, wondering why I did this when she was fine before.
A few stops later, my eyes wander off my book. I see the woman. She looks different now. Or maybe I am looking at her more closely. I see dark, deep circles under her young eyes. I see that she is holding her head up with tired hands. I see how life seems to have asked more of her than she was ready to give.
And some little wall in me falls at the sight of her humanness. At how her vulnerability isn’t buried so far down. And I understand then that we could all use a place to sit now and again.
At the next stop, she rises. Here, she says to me, you can have the seat back now. Thanks.
She leaves. I sit. And silently, I thank her for softening me to the world.