The Lady on the Train


As I took my usual train ride from home to school, I experienced an unusual phenomenon – a young lady who who was shedding tears. We boarded the train from the same station and happened to sit opposite each other. She teared up silently as she sat there, and I felt both sad and awkward watching her. Of course, I couldn’t watch her for too long lest I begin to appear rude, and luckily I was absorbed in Nathaniel Bassey’s Ruach Elohim softly seeping through my ear buds into my ears and further into my soul.

Tears are very human, and one should not be surprised to find a human being shedding tears. What made this unusual for me is the usual stoic stance that most people maintain when in public transit. Even with students transiting in groups, you’d often find each person with ears plugged, only making an occasional flipping remark about one thing or another. It does make sense that public transit is not most appropriate for lavish self-expression, but it feels as if most people try too hard to make a poker face, almost looking robotic while at it.

But this lady was obviously too distressed to care about any unwritten law of behaviour in public transit, if there were any. She kept glancing at her phone while tearing up, possible looking at some words or images that brought tears to her eyes. I tried to imagine what her sorrow could be. A deceased relative? A financial misfortune? A broken relationship? A health struggle? I would probably never know. As she let hear tears run freely, it was quite the contrast to what I was used to seeing in public.

In between glancing at her and shutting my eyes to take in the music I was listening to, I looked around at the rest of us, unemotional and blank as always. Most of us, including the sobbing lady, had our earphones on, locked into another world while we were physically stuck together for a few minutes on the train. We dutifully kept our thoughts and feelings from reflecting on our faces, as we probably should. Or should we all open up a bit and let our thoughts and feelings seep through our faces, letting others into what our world might be?

The lady’s tears continued for about seven minutes or so, and then suddenly, I looked up to see her smiling at her phone. First, it was a smile, then it became quiet laughter. She seemed to have swung from one emotional extreme to another in a matter of seconds, transported by her phone into another world. Was she smiling at a message from a friend? A meme, joke or funny video on social media? A good news that negated her initial sorrow? Was she laughing in between her tears, seeking temporary relief from her pain? Again, I’ll never know.

In a couple more minutes, we arrive at the University Station, and it turns out we are coming down at the same station. I see her briefly as we mill out onto the platform before she disappears into the crowd and I head towards my class where I would learn about the normal probability distribution. The probability of experiencing this again is infinitesimal. This makes me wonder: if our human experiences were represented by the normal distribution, what would be the average experience? An uneventful ride on a train with stoic faces? Perhaps.

Thank you for reading, and see you next time!


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