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COMMON GROUND

I Heart People

So, I'm pretty sure we're all familiar with public transportation, right? You get a cornucopia of diversity in an enclosed space for a short amount of time, yet long enough to form judgments about complete strangers.

I was on the public transportation in D.C., and I was living my own cornucopia of diversity. I had just completed some volunteer work, and I was incredible tired. I didn't really want to be bothered with anyone, and I was rockin' out to some tunes with my best friend whose name happens to be "iPod."

To my left, there was a couple who appeared to be tourists. You know the type: generally smiling really big, taking pictures of random things a native wouldn't normally find interesting, and just having a good time taking in their new surroundings. To my right and an aisle back, was a girl who was deeply intent in whatever book she was reading and didn't seem to care what was going on around her. In the same row, different aisle, there sat an elderly woman simply looking into space looking rather pensive.

We're all enjoying our ride in our own miniature microcosm of society when a blind gentleman enters the train... rather abrasively. He tapped people with his cane while grumbling, "Move out of the way! Move out of the way!" Even though I had my ear buds in rockin' out with my friend, I managed to take notice that this man seemed like he could've been a little down on his luck. He wasn't particularly too clean, and his overall demeanor exuded, "Don't talk to me! I want to be alone!"

As the man tried to find his way to an open seat, I gently grabbed his arm and directed him to a seat close to me. He had a hands free headset which he used to attempt to contact the bus line to obtain information about a transfer. He yelled at the headset saying, "THAT'S NOT WHAT I WANT! I DIDN'T SAY THAT! UGH!" It was very apparent that he was disgruntled with the voice-automated system. Since he was yelling, I could hear where he needed to go pretty clearly. The people I mentioned before took notice to him and each had a look of fear on their faces... that's the normal reaction, right?

I removed my "friend" from my ears and asked the gentleman if I could be of service to him. He quickly and sternly said, "No!" I replied, "I couldn't help but overhearing you, but we're going to the same location. Perhaps I can help you get to your final destination?" He then said, "This stupid thing doesn't pay attention to what I'm telling it to do!" I replied, "Oh... the voice-automated system? Yeah, it can be a pain to deal with sometimes. I know exactly how you feel." He calmly said, "You do?" By this time, the fear on people's faces had turned to a look of confusion as if to say, "Why is he even talking to the crazy guy?! He must be equally as crazy!"

I continued to talk to the man, and during our dialogue, he drastically calmed down... to the point of almost a whisper. I found common ground with him and let him know that he's not the only one who has had to deal with buggy technology. We continued to talk quietly and the fear turned confusion... now turned into smiles and looks of awe. I noticed that people's eyes became bigger. They looked intent in my interaction with this man. It was like a story unfolding in front of their eyes. The girl who was reading so intently, looked up and smiled -- even chuckled a bit. The couple... looked in amazement. The older woman looked at me... just staring.

As we approached our stop, I let the man know that we had arrived. I asked if he needed assistance getting off of the train, and he politely said, "Yes, please." I grabbed his arm and guided him in the correct direction. Since he had tucked away his cane, I stood with him as he readied himself to use his cane, and what happened next shocked me. Remember the couple I mentioned? They stopped with us, and the woman gently grabbed the blind man's other arm while her husband (or boyfriend) put both of his hands on the blind man's shoulders to assist in guiding him. The four of us walked together in a little cluster, and I thought to myself, "Wow... what just happened?!" We guided him to the escalator where the blind man began to speak again and asked, "Where are y'all going?" We all responded and the woman, who was one step down and to the left, turned back and mouthed "wow" to me. She smiled, and I almost thought I'd see a tear.

As we approached the bottom of the escalator the couple went in their own direction, and I asked the blind man if I could be of more assistance to which he responded, "No. I'm okay. Thank you." I went my separate way thinking about what happened on the train that caused everyone to go from fear to confusion to amazement. To this day, I still don't get it, but whatever it was... it was truly powerful!

If this ever gets published somewhere, I'd like to thank the couple who took a risk to help me help the blind man. I didn't say or show it then, but it speaks volumes about what human beings are capable of doing. Thank you for replenishing my hope in the world.

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I love your story cuz I think it really shows the power of empathy.
YS, Hong Kong

Assumptions can protect us and prevent us from feats of extraordinary kindness. Kudos to you for your infectious spirit and inadvertent teaching moment.
Y. Aya M., Oskaloosa, IA

You certainly made a difference and provided a wonderful lesson to all of us. Thanks for sharing.
Norman, Cayman Islands

What a beautiful and inspiring story. Thank you Stephen, for showing compassion and kindness to this man.
Janie R., Woodland, CA

Vern, I know you can do it! If you want, let me know of your successes. Thanks for commenting on my story.
Stephen A., D.C.

That story causes me to think of what I can do for even my grouchiest friends. After all I can see the good in them and even sometimes the reason for their abrasiveness. I hope to be a better person in the next minute than I am right now, to say thank you or hold a door open or even to give to the less fortunate than me. Just focus on the positive and be grateful for what we do have.
Vern C., Murray, Utah