Yesterday I was riding home on the train, sitting in my usual seat—in the corner, far from the doors. The car soon filled up to capacity. Lifting my gaze from a sudoku puzzle, I noticed that standing very near me was a woman, 30-ish, holding a medium-sized package. Nothing too heavy, but big enough to be ungainly while she actively worked to stand and steady herself as the train lurched about.
After a moment, I decided to give up my seat to her. My back was tired, but I wasn’t carrying anything, and I’d been sitting on my ass all day at work anyway. I folded my puzzle and put it and my pen into my pocket, then rose and offered her the seat. She nodded and we shimmied past each other in the crowded aisle. She said nothing as she sat down, but I wasn’t expecting any thanks, figuring that she thought I was leaving anyway.
I held the rail of the seat-back near her, and stood facing the door, my back to her. The train continued on its jostling way.
Two or three stops later, I felt a gentle tap on my wrist. I turned to her. She was smiling, looking a bit bemused. “Thank you,” she mouthed clearly to me. I smiled back and nodded deferentially.
“I thought it was your stop,” she said, as an excuse for her delayed thanks. I shrugged and said in a no-big-deal tone, “eh, sooner or later.”
Realising that she’d been the recipient of a gratuitous act of kindness, she paused a half-beat before replying. “That never happens.”
I’m not telling this story to toot my own horn.
Later that night my wife and I were talking, and somehow got onto the subject of Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed Shah of Iran, and the current state of royalty in general. She said to me, “that’s a world that doesn’t exist any more.”
So I told her about my train ride, which cheered her. We now live in a world where it’s rare, even shockingly unexpected, for an able-bodied person to yield a seat to someone who might benefit more from it, where—on that same train—an elderly man jockeyed to get aboard first so that he could secure a seat for himself. I regret that other world’s demise… because sometimes I don’t much like this one.