Empathy on the 1 Train

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“I’m a single mother of two and I’m selling…”

I didn’t listen further to the woman stepping onto the 1 Train, assuming I knew the rest of her announcement.

As she made her way towards me—fruit snacks and chips packed neatly in a cardboard box—I averted my eyes to the ground, feeling guilty for rarely giving money. In the corner of my eye I see the graying man next to me frantically digging through his backpack. Scavenging through all his pockets as she continues towards us, I figure he’s looking for his wallet. “If he can’t find it, I’ll give him a dollar to give her,” I tell myself. I know I have one.

The woman stalls in front of us; three strangers united, waiting breathlessly. He finally grasps something with his hand…and pulls out a pack of Orbit. “He keeps his money in a pack of gum? That’s weird,” I think, certain he will be giving her money. He proceeds to pop a stick of gum in his mouth, physically sigh in relief, and do whatever we pretend to do on our phones. She continues on past us, repeating her speech, and my heart sinks.

I’m shocked and disappointed. No, I’m infuriated. What was he thinking? Where was his empathy?! I sat there, judging him.

And then I sat there, judging myself. Am I really any different?

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