Every day I take the Caltrain to work. My routine is fairly consistent. I tend to miss at least one of two possible buses to the station. On good days days I am able to stop at my favorite coffee shop before boarding. Most days I arrive at the Palo Alto station without incident – coffee in hand, newspaper scanned, and still considering what the morning ahead will bring.
Then there are mornings like today -where I miss my both buses and yet somehow manage to make it to both the coffee shop and train in time. As I walked to the station I couldn’t help but smile thinking someone was looking out for me today. When I arrived riders were lining the entrance way instead of climbing into the cars. Immediately I suspected why.
In the past 10 days there have been three fatalities on the tracks. Only one is a confirmed suicide, the other two deaths remain under investigation. However, last year there were 16 casualties – the majority suicides.
What I am about to admit is something I am not proud of, something I am more than a bit ashamed of. Upon learning of the delays I immediately turned to my friend and said, “I hope it’s not another fatality.” But I didn’t say it out of compassion. I meant it because I had an important interview scheduled for the morning that had taken me two months to line up. I just couldn’t miss it. In truth, I was frustrated by what I interpreted to be the selfish actions of another person and how it affected the commute for thousands of people. But stepping back, who was really acting selfishly?
When I was finally allowed to board I took my seat and pondered the possible causes of our delay. Signal failure? We had yet to hear any news from Caltrain officials and I checked the news wires from my phone – no releases had been issued. It wasn’t until a conductor made an announcement around San Mateo that we learned why were were singletracking it down to the South Bay: there was a fatality. Immediately I felt guilty. Immediately I had a new perspective on my day.
Moments later I looked out the window and saw something I never expected to see -the wreckage of another human being. I am not going to describe the scene. I will just tell you that I immediately brought my hand to my heart and felt sick. Passengers across the way kept asking questions. I could understand their desire to learn more. Who hasn’t looked at a car accident on the highway and craned their neck to see more? Curiosity is the human condition. But what a difference being across the aisle makes. The divide between knowing too much and not enough. The distance between wanting to see another sun rise and feeling you’ve seen enough.
I cannot imagine the suffering this person endured to make the decision they did this morning. I cannot imagine the pain their family and friends will suffer upon learning their loved one’s fate.
These are truly stressful times we are facing. All I know is that now is the time to look out for one another – to ask each other how we are and mean it. To consider someone else’s feelings before we act.
When I shut the door to my cab at the Menlo Park station I talked to the cabbie. I felt the need to confess my initial reaction to the delays.
HIM: “Everyone is under so much stress.”
ME : “I know. I feel guilty for feeling stressed about my day earlier. Someone isn’t here anymore.”
We chatted for the rest of the ten minute ride to my office. When I left I handed him money and said “Take care.” And I meant it.
So take care today all. I hope you are doing well.