Brief en­counter

When Cathy Levy ac­ci­den­tally struck up a friend­ship with a stranger on the bus, it made her re­think the way she con­nects with the world – and every­one in it

Red - - CONTENTS - Join the con­ver­sa­tion @Red­mag­daily @Cathy_levy CATHY LEVY

We must stay hu­man dur­ing the daily com­mute, says Cathy Levy

A MONTH AGO I FOUND MY­SELF CON­SUMED WITH RAGE when a com­muter shoved me out of the way to race for the only seat. It was the same when, the month be­fore, I’d been forced to en­dure an­other per­son’s fleshy body squashed against mine be­cause they couldn’t bear to wait one more minute for the next tube. Or when some­one is stand­ing on the wrong side of the es­ca­la­tor/dawdling in the high street/block­ing the milk aisle with their trolley and en­tire fam­ily. If you had held a mir­ror to my an­gered face in those mo­ments, I’d have been thor­oughly mor­ti­fied.

Most of the time I’d say I’m a con­sid­er­ate, com­pas­sion­ate per­son. I rise above hys­te­ria, turn the other cheek, never hold grudges (well, not for too long). And yet, on more than one oc­ca­sion, I have felt an anger take hold. It’s the rage of the road, of the su­per­mar­ket aisle, of the bus and the underground. It’s an in­tol­er­ance that trans­forms oth­er­wise rea­son­able hu­mans into peo­ple who bear lit­tle re­sem­blance to their or­di­nary selves. And yes, I’m ashamed to say, it has had me too.

But I’ve come to realise that this feel­ing is deeper than anger. It is cat­tle men­tal­ity: the mode we en­ter when we tem­po­rar­ily lose our hu­man­ity. And I know I’m not alone in this be­cause I see it ev­ery­where. I also know that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Why? Be­cause I re­cently ex­pe­ri­enced an­other side to our en­forced scut­tling along to­gether in such close quar­ters. With­out sound­ing too dra­matic, it has changed me – for the bet­ter. I now call it ‘a random and sur­pris­ing con­nec­tion with a fel­low hu­man who has re­tained their hu­man­ity while all around are los­ing theirs’.

It hap­pened at my lo­cal bus stop, where an un­writ­ten rule states that wait­ing pas­sen­gers must form a line, one be­hind the other. Not be­side each other (even if trav­el­ling to­gether) or, dare you try it, strolling to the front.

So one day when a young girl – a lit­tle quirky-look­ing, swig­ging from a can of cider and clutch­ing a di­shev­elled bunch of flow­ers – ap­proached the line and made a com­ment about our strange queu­ing sys­tem, I smiled sym­pa­thet­i­cally. At this brief con­nec­tion she an­nounced to the line that “Oh yes!”, she was with me, and jumped in be­side me. She asked me my name, told me hers and we be­gan a con­ver­sa­tion that had us shar­ing sur­pris­ingly per­sonal de­tails. I learnt that she had only one kid­ney and shouldn’t drink, but couldn’t help the oc­ca­sional one; that she was vis­it­ing a friend, hence the flow­ers, and was meant to ar­rive for lunch (it was 7pm); that she was al­most 21 (less than half my age) and for her birth­day wanted to hire a hot air bal­loon but won­dered how many it held – though she only had five friends, so that’s all that mat­tered; that she thought she couldn’t have chil­dren but her boyfriend said that’s okay, they could adopt.

We talked about what she re­ally wanted to do (be a DJ) and what I re­ally wanted to do (write nov­els), and we found our­selves en­cour­ag­ing each other to fol­low our dreams de­spite be­ing afraid to. It was the sweet­est in­ter­ac­tion with a stranger I’ve ever had, and one that, on first glance, I’d have steered clear of. It re­minded me that we hu­mans all have hopes and dreams, flaws and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, that we are all de­serv­ing of space and pa­tience and, yes, though I hate to sound all namby-pamby, that we all need kind­ness and love. That meet­ing trans­formed my cat­tle men­tal­ity. It showed me that I could care for a stranger, and stop fret­ting if some­one queue barged or pushed their trolley in my way. In the grand scheme of things, does it re­ally mat­ter? If the ten­sion rises now, I sim­ply make eye contact, smile and say “Ex­cuse me”, and, just like that, the sit­u­a­tion is dif­fused. It doesn’t take a great ef­fort to re­mem­ber that we’re all some­one’s friend or col­league or mother or daugh­ter.

If we can re­mind our­selves of that, wher­ever we are, who knows what a dif­fer­ence we can all make?

“I HATE to sound all namby-pamby – we all need KIND­NESS and love”

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