It’s ironic that being in public often encourages us to remain in our own private space. When we ride public transportation, for example, we ignore those around us while waiting on the platform. And once aboard, we focus on our phones, listen to music or simply stare into space, always trying very hard not to make eye contact with the other passengers.
This irony recently motivated an American optimist living in London to encourage social interactions on their subway. He went as far as printing buttons and brochures proclaiming “Tube Chat” and recruited other friendly volunteers to help promote subway conversations. However, the locals were not impressed. London commuters were simply not interested and that’s the last I’ve read of his campaign.
I couldn’t help but think of his failed attempt one evening when I was riding the local subway after work. Most of us boarded the crowded train, tired from a long day and already thinking about the evening ahead. Seated directly across from me was a young woman with an incredibly happy baby girl perched on her lap. Within moments, a middle-aged man several seats down was making silly faces to engage the child. His antics were welcomed by the probably weary mother, as her daughter laughed and clapped, so she began chatting with him. Before long, nearly everyone around the baby was also making faces or smiling at her, or joining in the conversation.
So because of a cute baby, the usual quiet zone rules were disregarded. We humans are naturally social beings, but we learn to be cautious around people we see in temporary circumstances. Even though it would probably make the commute seem shorter, and who knows, maybe introduce us to a new friend or two, as the American in London learned firsthand, our nature is to be private in public.
Last Sunday, I laced up my running shoes to join 6,400 people running Maine’s Beach to Beacon 10-K. A lovely course that winds its way along the shoreline, it features world-class runners along with recreational participants, like me. I’ve been running since college, but I’m a lot slower these days, an honest reminder that time just doesn’t stand still.
On race day, we settled into the car just after sunrise for our hour ride to catch a bus to the starting line (yes, you can get tired just finding your way to the race!). As we approached the parking area, I reached down to put on my running shoes, but realized I’d forgotten to pack socks. Those who run can only imagine how foolish I felt. I always carry two extra pairs in my gym bag but was going to have to run a 10-K sockless. Naturally, given the early hour, there was nowhere open to buy an emergency replacement. My only hope was that more mindful fellow racer would have an extra pair that I could buy or borrow.
We parked and my search began. I went from car to car as bodies were sleepily opening doors to join the bus line, but no one had an extra pair. Next I approached the quiet group queued in the bathroom line –but again, no one had a pair. With time running out, I realized I was going to have to run sockless so joined my group to board the bus.
As I joked about my packing mishap, a woman standing nearby transformed into my guardian angel as she said, “You can’t run like that” and magically handed me the extra pair she’d packed for her teenage daughter. She’d been among those I’d previously asked and maybe she didn’t hear me, or maybe she needed to be sure her daughter didn’t need them. Regardless, she saved me from blisters and more.
Moral of the story:
- Even the most organized of us will occasionally forget something.
- You can believe in the kindness of strangers.
- Slow and steady – and socks or no socks – gets you to the finish line.