Sometimes, it seems, I can be a bit naïve. On my way to work this morning, my train was delayed. The trains going in both directions between my station and the two south of me were sharing the same track. I wasn’t standing at my platform very long before the timed metro announcement came over the intercom apologizing for the inconvenience. It isn’t much of a surprise to hear these, as metro, especially the red line, is known to breakdown, have door malfunctions, embark on poorly timed construction, etc. However, this morning, the announcement was a little different. The woman over the intercom announced in a pleasantly nonchalant voice, “Good morning, metro rail customers. The red line is experiencing delays in both directions due to an earlier incident of a train striking a person at the White Flint station. Personnel are currently on the scene. We apologize for this inconvenience and are working to have the situation resolved shortly.”
All I could think to myself was about how metro really needed to up its safety procedures. This wasn’t the first time I had encountered this message. Back in November, I heard a similar announcement being made about a stop along the orange line during rush hour. I’d always been amazed watching how close riders would get to the platform as the train came barreling into the station. It certainly had to be a safety hazard for incidents like this morning’s. There was no doubt in my mind that this morning’s incident and the November incident had been terrible accidents of standing too close to the edge without knowing the train was coming. The thought that it could’ve happened because of anything else never even crossed my mind. In fact, it wasn’t even until later that morning when a coworker asked me about the delay that there was even a hint of a question in my mind that it had not just been an accident.
In the break room, my coworker inquired whether I had experienced delays, as she had seen the alert pop up on the metro app she has on her cell phone. I said, yes, and began to remark on how crazy it was that this had happened. Continuing the conversation, she expressed her wonderings on what had caused it — had someone gotten tragically jostled, or was it a suicide? A suicide. The word hit me like a bag of bricks. It simply hadn’t been an option in my mind. I stirred cream into my coffee and walked back to my desk.
Throughout the day, I participated in a conference call, brainstormed ways to use different streams of federal homelessness funding together, and answered a dozen or so emails. Work went on as usual, but in the back of my mind, that word sat heavy like an old to-go box in the back of a fridge. It was there and I needed to address it, but maybe if I just ignored it, the undesirable truth of it would magically disappear.
Finally, just before I was about to head home from work, I googled this morning’s incident. Not only did I immediately learn that the man hit this morning had died after intentionally jumping in front of the oncoming train, but I was also confronted with a slew of other articles, other incidents, all on the metro I ride every week, all of the same nature. This was reportedly the second suicide on the metro system this month and the fifth for the year so far. Similar stories from previous years were also listed on my search results page. I was overwhelmed with reality. There was a pang in my heart. I started wishing I could have met all of them.
Many of the articles on suicide by train, or really suicide in general, are coupled with discussion boards that overflow with comments from anonymous users with screen names such as, “Fed Up Rider,” “Disgruntled,” “Pop Goes the Weasel,” or “DC Gurl.” They talk about how selfish “these people” are to do this in a public space, how rude it is of them to mess up the morning commute, or, one of my personal favorites, “they either were [too] cowardly to do the job themselves, or wanted attention.”
Although I’m not surprised by these users’ lack of compassion and complete misunderstanding of what it means to be that depressed, that lack of surprise doesn’t alter the fact that they disgust me as human beings. People do not publicly kill themselves like this because they are trying to mess up your morning commute or because they are cowardly. They do it because perhaps they think if they did it alone, no one would ever find them. They do it because they feel like they have no one to turn to anymore. They do it because they’ve woken up for a long, long time unable to see that the sky is blue and the air is warm. To the anonymous Internet commenters, this isn’t about you. Please, stop being so selfish.
As the office emptied and the custodial staff began their rounds to the cubicle trashcans, I told myself that I had to do something to honor this man. There was no longer the chance to be the smile he needed from a stranger or the conversation he needed to feel less alone, but there was the opportunity to show that his pain was understood. There was now the chance to honor his troubled soul as it painfully transitioned, somehow, someway, into a rested spirit. I decided I would leave flowers at the station on my way home.
Soon after deciding this, the excuses began to form. Wouldn’t people at the station look at me funny? Wouldn’t it be uncomfortable? I guess I didn’t know the guy. It would be such an inconvenience to have to walk to the store to get the flowers and then to have to get off the train before my stop and then have to wait for the next train to get home. I mean, who knows how long that could take? I don’t know if I should do this. By the time I made it down the elevator to the lobby of my building, I had managed to crush all of those excuses, because that is exactly all they were — excuses. They were the kind of excuses that push us apart as human beings. They dim the care we should show towards one another — because we’re too inconvenienced, because we worry about what others will think about us. We’re too busy and hidden within our own worlds to do what we would want someone else to do for us — to reach out a hand when we desperately need it.
I found a perfect spring bouquet at a shop down the street and began to walk to the metro. I quickly realized the power the flowers had. Everyone stopped to look at them. I saw so many faces smile. On the elevator down to the metro, one individual turned to me and remarked with a big grin, “That really is quite a beautiful array you have there.” Thank you, I replied, They’re a gift for someone. I couldn’t be happier that the flowers were already spreading a little more cheer into the world.
While on the train, I looked at the many faces surrounding me. They were the typical metro faces after work — exhausted, irritated, spacey, bored, expressionless. I understood them; I was exhausted too. I began to think about a girl I sat next to on a train a few weeks back. I was hungry and tired and coated with a thin layer of aggravation. She looked to be in her late twenties and had a small afro of hair, black-rimmed glasses, and a colorful, relaxed outfit. I huffily buried my nose in my book, but I kept my ears popped out. Soon, despite my disgruntled mood, I was smiling. I listened to her as she looked up at the middle-aged man across from her and asked, “Do you have a Ph.D.?”
The man was shaken from his metro trance, clearly startled that someone had actually spoken to him. “I’m, I’m sorry, excuse me?” he managed.
The girl let out a little sunshine-y laugh and repeated, “I asked, do you have a Ph.D.? You just look so serious!”
Instantly, the man began to chuckle. He shook his head, as if shaking off a long day and a circular thought pattern in which he had been engrossed.
“Ha, gosh, th-thank you. Thank you, for that,” he spoke, now nodding his head and smiling.
For the next few stops until the man reached his destination, I secretly listened to the magnificent sound of two strangers forging human connection. Two people making life a little better. I was simply thrilled.
I recalled this memory as my train pulled into the White Flint station. I got off the train and the environment gave me shivers. Around me, people walked as they normally did. Life went on as it normally does. But just this morning, life had completely changed in that exact location for one man. I sat down on a bench with the flowers in my hand and I looked at the empty track my train had just vacated.
On the other side of the tracks were a handful of cherry trees in full bloom. Their white and light pink petals tickled the distant blue sky behind them. It was a stunning thing to see, the birth of spring. The next train would arrive in eight minutes. I kept looking at the cherry blossoms, contemplating their paradox. To me, in that moment, in that state of mind, they were exquisite. They made me happy and brightened my heart. However, to another person, in that moment, in a different state of mind, those cherry blossoms can be a kick into an already bruised soul. Their beauty can toy with the depression, asking the person why they can’t just enjoy the prettiness like everyone else? And the depression can’t answer because it can’t see it.
I looked down at the flowers in my hand, and I whispered, “I didn’t know you, but I hope that wherever you’ve made it to now, that you are able to see the flowers again.”
I left them at the station and I boarded my train home.
I truly didn’t write this blog to make people sad. Trust me, that is the last thing that I would want to do. I wrote this because I could not stop thinking about this man I had never met. I wrote it because he deserved to have the emotions that he could no longer control at least be a reminder to us to do our part — to smile at one another, to love each other, to help one stand when the other gets weary, to make a serious face on the metro laugh a little, to be kind, to be compassionate, to be truly human — to make sure that we can all see the flowers of spring bloom, again and again.