The off-duty transportation worker collapsed. He fell to the concrete, rolled to his back and grabbed his chest.
Sarah and I were on the Orange Line train on our way to Midway Airport in Chicago. We were coming to the end of a spontaneous, wonderful weekend trip.
The train stopped at Western and 49th. Three stops shy of the airport. The doors opened out of formality. Nobody was getting on or off. As we looked out the window to our right we saw the man on the platform collapse.
He fell to his knees, then his side, then his back. Sarah and I looked at each other, panicked and still. Silent.
Given the 28 miles of walking and the limited sleep over the past two days, we were exhausted. Our response times were poor.
We both looked at the man and back at each other. Finally, Sarah broke the silence with “should we help?” It’s hard to replicate her inflection. All I can tell you is that it wasn’t a question. We both knew that we should help. And yet we were frozen.
The pre-recorded “doors closing” played over the train’s speakers. Finally, we both sprung up and darted off the train.
I don’t know why we were frozen for four seconds. Given the lack of reaction from everyone else on the train, I don’t know why we got up at all. I’d like to give you some noble reason. But to be honest, not speaking for Sarah, I got up out of guilt-avoidance more than anything else. I’d be upset with myself for a long time if we hadn’t gotten up.
We hopped onto the platform. The man was 15 feet away. We approached him and both said, in unison, “Sir, are you okay?”
The man mumbled back an almost unrecognizable “It’s okay. I’m just drunk.” He waved us away, appearing to signal that he didn’t need our help.
Sarah didn’t understand what he said. She looked at me inquisitively. So I relayed to her “It’s fine. He’s just drunk. We can go.”
Which sounds like a pretty inconsiderate response from me. And it was. But keep in mind that for the previous seven seconds I was convinced that this man was having a heart attack. As was Sarah. And I am not comfortable in situations like that. So when I heard that he was “just drunk” everything I feared had been wiped away.
Sarah is the nicer of us. So we didn’t leave quite yet.
Nobody enjoys such situations, but Sarah gets less flustered by them than most. She’s more prepared. She has her doctorate in physical therapy. She routinely has her CPR certification updated. She regularly treats elderly, out-of-shape, on-the-verge-of-a-heart-attack patients.
Sarah asked “Is there anything we can do for you?”
“Can you call my parents?” Again almost undetectable words coming from the man who was still on his back. It took Sarah and I working together to figure out those words. It was a puzzle.
Sarah took out her phone and the three of us struggled to enter the correct number. Sarah pressed the green icon and started to hand the man her phone. I had doubts about the quality of that idea, so I grabbed the phone.
“Hello?” A female voice.
“Hi. Umm…” Calling my best friend makes me uncomfortable. Now I was calling a most likely wrong number to tell a stranger that her son was drunk at a train stop. “I’m with your son at a train stop and he asked me to call you because he’s had a little too much to drink.”
We went back and forth for a few moments but didn’t get much figured out. So she passed the phone to her husband. Her husband didn’t speak much English. He asked if I could please speak in Spanish or pass the phone to someone who could. I had four years of Spanish in high school. What a joke. So reluctantly I handed the phone to the drunk man.
They had a short conversation in Spanish. Nothing seemed to be getting accomplished. I don’t know much Spanish, but I know enough to realize that they were talking in circles. So I figured I’d take another stab at it. “Hey, can I talk to your dad again?” I extended my hand, gesturing for the phone.
The man, who had previously been as cordial as a nearly blacked out man can be, was turning aggressive. “Who the fuck are you?” He appeared to genuinely not remember me or our last few minutes of conversation. “You better get out of here before I kick your fucking ass.”
Still lying on his back he held the phone loosely out in front of him. I swiped at it and he pulled it away. His reflexes were solid considering his state. “If you try that again I’ll fucking kill you.” He said it angrily, like he truly did want to kill me.
Sarah scurried off. I figured she wanted to create some distance from the man, scared what he might do. I didn’t blame her. I’m a tall, athletic guy in his late 20s. Especially given the man’s current state I felt comfortable. But I was glad Sarah left. If something were to go wrong it’d be much easier to get out of there not having to worry about anyone but me.
With Sarah gone I made a few more attempts at her phone. I had given up on the man. I wanted Sarah’s phone back, and then I wanted to go home. I didn’t care about the phone itself, but I didn’t like the idea of this man having access to so much of Sarah’s personal information.
With each failed attempt the man became more agitated. “I’ll fucking throw your phone if you try that again” he said. He also accused me of stealing his phone and of pushing him to the ground where he laid. And then all of a sudden he calmly said “Hey man, where am I?” He was back to his cordial state.
I took advantage of his second personality shift. I offered to talk to his still-on-the-phone parents and he calmly handed me the phone. I took it and left, looking for Sarah. I walked up and down the platform but couldn’t find her.
I could hear the next train approaching. It had been exactly 10 minutes since this all started. It felt longer. Ideally Sarah and I would hop on this train, but I still couldn’t find her. And I had her phone.
Seconds later I saw Sarah turn the corner with an on-duty transportation worker. She had gone to get help. We were on the same page about not wanting to personally assist this man anymore, but she wanted to make sure that somebody was there to look after him. She didn’t want him to roll onto the tracks. Once again, Sarah wins the battle of niceness.
The on-duty worker talked to the man and managed to get him to his feet. Together they struggled to get to the elevator three feet away. The man was accusing us of an assortment of things. We stole his phone. We beat him up. The on-duty worker played along, rolling her eyes the whole time. Then they disappeared.
A few minutes later Sarah and I got on the next train. Again, silence. Finally. This time because we both needed a few minutes to gather ourselves. Previously on the verge of falling asleep, we both needed some time to calm down.
Back On The Train Again
I replayed the events in my head. I analyzed the man’s behavior and thought about how I never wanted to put myself in the position that that man put himself in. I never wanted to get that drunk. Especially not in public. Especially not by myself. Then I immediately felt guilty for analyzing his behavior. Society says that I shouldn’t think these thoughts. I shouldn’t judge people.
But here’s the thing: I wasn’t judging anybody.
I never thought of him as an alcoholic or an asshole. I still don’t.
I never even considered that the man was a bad person.
And it should be obvious why I wasn’t judging him. I don’t know anything about him. I can’t assume he’s a habitual drunk because I saw him drunk one time. Not the best sample size.
Even if the man were a habitual drunk, who am I to judge him for that? I don’t know what his life’s like. I don’t know anything about his upbringing or his relationships; about his struggles or his disadvantages. Maybe if I had the same life experiences as him I’d be the one laying on the platform.
I’ve had such a cushy life that I was stressed out for hours over a drunk man telling me he was going to kick my ass. Not everybody’s life is that soft. It’d be hard for me to fairly judge someone who’s potentially had such a different life than I.
I’m Not Judging You
We live in an ultra-PC society that often goes too far to the point of being counterproductive. If I analyze your behavior in any way then I’m judging you. And that’s immoral. And I’m a bad person.
I’m not judging you. At least not most of the time. Sure, I have bad days where I get insecure. I have days where I think I’m better than you. But those days are the exception. Most of the time, even when you think I’m judging you, I’m not.
I’m just being aware.
By being aware of my surroundings I’m able to assess behavior in other people. Behavior that I do and don’t think would benefit my own life. That doesn’t mean that I’m judging people for that behavior, either positively or negatively. Those people have different lives than I have.
Maybe you know things I don’t know. Maybe I know things you don’t know. Maybe if I was born to your parents and had your experiences I’d do the same as you. So I’m not judging you.
I’m Judging Me
Sometimes I see in others things that I do and don’t like about myself. It’s hard to look at myself as objectively as I can look at someone else. Why should I be afraid to learn from what I see in others? To be outrospectively introspective?
I’m not judging you, but I am judging your decisions and your actions.
I judge your parenting strategies. Your clothes. Your choice in music. Your attitude. Your body. Your pasttimes. But I only judge these things in so much as they pertain to me.
Because I don’t want to parent like that. I don’t want to own all of those clothes. I don’t want to listen to that music. I don’t want to catch myself acting like that. I don’t want to let myself get that overweight. I don’t want to spend my life on Facebook.
In no way am I thinking that you shouldn’t parent like that. Or that owning those clothes is wrong for you. Etc.
I’m judging a lot of aspects of your life, but I’m not judging you. I’m judging me, and you are my lens.