Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

This morning, on my commute into work, I arrived at the EL (ie, SEPTA Market-Frankford Line) station at Girard as a train was pulling onto the tracks above me. Given SEPTA's incompetence in keeping a basic train schedule, I raced up the stairs just in time to watch the doors close in front of me by a nanosecond. So I did what any regular Philadelphian would do; I did one of those quick half-turn spinny things in disgust, while grumbling something to myself. In mid-spin, I heard "Hey man..." and saw that a guy had pulled the door open for me at the last aforementioned nanosecond. I hopped on the train and thanked the guy for doing that. He was probably about my age, with a blue hooded sweatshirt and a Domino's Pizza hat, and was holding a cup of coffee. He gave me a friendly nod in response.

Before another second had passed, I heard "Come here!" and turned to see a police officer taking the guy who'd just held the door for me off the train. Caught in a mental rock in a hard place, I too jumped off the train just before the doors closed for good. The cop began chewing him out. The guy in the Domino's hat calmly responded, "The man needed to get on the train." I interrupted and said "Hey, I wasn't trying to start any trouble." The cop looked at me and said "Why'd you get off? You could have kept going." I replied that I couldn't just take off while another person was getting in trouble for doing something nice for me. The cop looked at the Domino's hat guy once more and said "Don't do that!" As the cop was walking away, my new commuter friend called out to him, "I hope someone holds an elevator for you sometime." He said it in a very gentle, friendly voice, though I'm sure the sarcasm was not lost on the parting officer as he retreated back into his little office in hopes of finding more pointless activities with which to spend his time.

I shook the man's hand and thanked him again for trying to help me out. Within a minute, another train showed up; by far, a new SEPTA record! We got on the train together -- I made sure he got on first -- and told him to have a great day. I started to think about where he was headed. Perhaps he was just going to work. Perhaps he was on his way to court. Maybe he was going to visit his kid. Whatever the situation was, in a town with a very me-first mentality, he conducted himself in a very selfless manner. I thought about something my friend Joe once said to me: if everyone kept an eye on the needs of others instead of themselves, no one would be lacking. A few stops later, the guy turned to me, smiled, and jokingly said "Later man...don't interfere with commerce!" as he exited the train.

I never thought that missing a morning train would somehow become an insightful occurrence, but if I may be metaphorical for a moment, the world would be a much better place if more people would be willing to "pry open doors" for others, even if it costs them a few extra seconds of their precious time.

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