Involuntary Rescue

Sometimes all it takes to be a hero is being within reach

Two wooden mannequins dancing

You know those days where there is so much on the docket and going on behind the scenes that all you feel like doing is keeping your head down and barreling through?

Well, I was having one of those days. No one else could do what needed to be done on my silent list. In between coaching sessions and teaching, I rode the subway in my own private cocoon, replying to emails and jotting edits for an article I was writing. Encroaching deadlines and the regular assortment of unexpected "delights" that surprise business owners on a daily basis were my top priorities. I had a conference coming up and I wanted to be able to participate fully, so if I could keep my head down now, I told myself, it would be well worth it.

In case it isn't already clear from my other subway stories, I am an experienced rider of the MTA. Particularly the subway lines (You might say I'm familiar with Bronx and Staten Island, conversational in Brooklyn and Queens and "fluent" in most things Manhattan).

It's easy to tell the seasoned riders in NYC. They step to the side of each subway door to let the masses exit before they rush inside. They can move about inside a train speeding down the tracks and know when that track will curve. They don't dawdle. And they know exactly where to board the train to get off nearest the exit at their destination.

On this day, the train going downtown was fairly full. The train had pulled in before I had a chance to walk far enough down the platform to where I knew I would need to be when I disembarked. I decided that instead of switching to the next car every time the train made a stop. I would walk to the other end of this car and ride it to my destination.

Only the train had other plans.

I had been writing an email (important, of course, aren't most of them?) just before and was holding my phone in one hand. I started to make my way toward the middle of the car, where a man and a woman were talking. Just a moment after I passed the support bar within reach, the train lurched. I'm not sure if it was something with the brakes or we were riding too fast to slow down in time for the next station or what, but it knocked me off balance and I started falling backwards. All I could think was "I am going down."

It was one of those slow-motion, warp-speed moments. I couldn't see anything within reach or how to fall without much impact on myself and others.

And then I saw an arm.

I don't know if he offered it. It was the man in the conversation. In a flash, his arm  appeared, and it seemed deliberate. I'll never know for sure, but if he didn't offer it and I just grabbed, his response was even more impressive.

Have you ever applied counterweight to someone who is leaning away from you? Impromptu? This man was on average height and slender build. He was preoccupied in a conversation and suddenly we were dancing a Martha Graham pas de deux in the subway car. He supported my weight and held it steady as I pulled myself out of a surprisingly almost-graceful backward hinge (think of the position you are in when you are being "dipped" only no one is holding you up). All our onlookers, who had been busy in their own cocoons, found themselves in the middle of Flash mob of two. Even the guy with the earbuds immersed in whatever was playing who was standing next to the couple looked up.

What do you say when someone prevents you from cracking your head open or tumbling into an embarrassing position on public transit?

"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."

I said it the moment we locked arms, before I was even upright.

"That's all right."

And that was that. He went back to his conversation and I went on being grateful.

If he had been wearing earbuds like the guy standing next to him, I don't think his reflexes would have been fast enough to rescue me. Or it might have resulted in a two-passenger pile up.

All I can say is whether he meant to offer his arm or not, once it was taken, he was "All-in" and he made a huge difference. He gave me a new ending to that scary, vulnerable moment and a new beginning to the rest of my day. Thanks to him, I'm going to make more of an effort on my "cocoon" days to keep an eye out for people who need an arm.