A Recent T Encounter
Yesterday, I met a man from Iran. He sat next to me on the train. He told me that his son was in trouble and he came here with $15,000 to bail him out of jail. He had already gone to one location only to be told that he was in the wrong place. When we both got off at Park Street, recognizing his disorientation, I helped him as he switched from the red line to the green. It was one of those brief encounters that I was left contemplating.
When he boarded the train, I was already sitting. The passenger cart was fairly empty. A seat both to my right and left were open, but my handbag was placed on the seat to my left. Since the man came in on my left, I moved my bag to my lap. To my surprise, he didn’t sit there on my left but sat in the empty seat directly on my right. As is normal in this day and age, we both sat in silence awaiting our stops.
But I am a naturally curious person with a deep love for people and cultures that stems back to my childhood. And as I sat next to this man, I began to take in all that was going on around us as we sat so close to one another in silence.
There was an awkward tension I felt when this man sat down next to me. Our bodies were touching via our clothing, and we both glanced towards one another though our eyes never met. He fidgeted a few times, pulling his coat in close and nestling into the seat. As I took all this in, I began to wonder why he chose to sit there. He could have sat on my left or in the whole row of empty seats not far from us.
This wonder soon turned to a mind full of questions: Who was he? What was he doing here? What was his story? Was he just like any other person one sees on a train?
My mind is always moving, scanning the environment, and downloading information at lightning speed. I often find myself searching for meaning and significance in everyday events. While I know this human tendency, somehow I genuinely feel (and felt in that moment) that this encounter was different. It wasn’t the typical mind wondering in search for meaning in the face of meaningless things. Somehow, I knew I needed to pay attention so I could learn something.
Flooded by thoughts, inquisitive and aware, I began to further “investigate” the situation. He was holding a tan folder with an address and number scantily written on it. The folder read the word “JAIL” on it, written after two letters that I could not make out.
Just as I was overtaken by my curiosity, he glanced towards me. This time our eyes met, and he spoke, commenting on the weather with a bit of surprise. We made small talk for a few minutes. Actually, most of our conversation consisted of me making sure I heard him correctly due to our different accents. He asked me where I was from and where I was going. I responded. As the train arrived at Park Street and we both realized we were getting off at the same stop, we continued our conversation. As we walked, I asked him the same set of questions he had posed to me. It was then that I learned he was here from Iran to bail his son out of jail for immigration issues.
Looking from the outside, nothing much came out of our encounter, but it has stuck with me. I do not yet know why, but I know it was no accident that I met him. We meet so many people in life. Of the faces, names, and conversations, some stick with us and some don’t. There is a bigger reason, a mystery, at play in all of this. I walked away from this encounter feeling connected and grateful for the gift of such small moments of relationship.
It is not all that easy to share ourselves and our experiences with others, but it is necessary for connection. Amidst all of society’s weights, imposed norms, stereotypes, power dynamics, and increased elevation of individualism, this man trusted enough to share a bit of his story with me, and that means a lot. In the end, this is what life is all about. These are the connections that I thrive on—the small moments of life that offer us mirrors into our own selves, opening us up to deeper reflection and growth.
Ruth is the Community Engagement Coordinator at Still Harbor and an Emmaus Fellow with Life Together. Her love for justice and service is grounded in a strong faith background and relationship with God. She believes that spirituality and connection are needed if we are going to create any type of significant and lasting change in this world.