A few weeks ago, on a Sunday night, as I was walking down the Jackson red line station platform, I passed a group of two men and one woman walking in the opposite direction. My eyes met a couple of their faces, and they met mine. They stared at me longer than I had expected them to. Moments before we would have completely passed one another, they all let out a scream directly into my face. Then they laughed at my look of surprise. They had obviously meant for that scream to terrify me.
I yelled “What the hell guys?!” and flashed them a look of disgust as I continued down the platform to make my transfer, but that wasn’t enough to quell the rage bubbling inside me. I was angry at myself for not reacting in a stronger way. I was angry at them for choosing to be cruel and inflicting that cruelty on me. And I was angry because I felt that I was inherently a target for them—that, because I am a petite Asian-American woman, people look at me and think “she would be easy to bully.” Mocking laughter kept ringing in my ears as I walked.
I have endured many forms of harassment, and what happened on the train platform is nothing compared to my other experiences. But to be the object in any act of violence, verbal or physical, is never desirable. And to know that you are far more likely to be targeted because of your superficial qualities—that is disheartening and terrifying.
So I continued down the platform, frustration and rage and fear festering inside me, reminded of all the other times I had been victimized. I wanted to lash out at someone or something. I wanted to make it clear that I was no longer to be trifled with. I wanted to flip the script.
As I began to walk up the staircase to the blue line station where I would make my transfer, I saw a woman standing near the top steps, her back against the wall, looking concerned. She was holding a baby and surrounded by two large suitcases. Her eyes darted around her and then down to the bottommost steps where her elderly mother was slowly carrying a third suitcase down. A steady stream of people were walking past this scene, clearly not noticing or ignoring the woman’s distress.
The anger coursing through my body intensified. I had been minding my own business, had done nothing wrong, and yet my night had been irrevocably tainted. Seeing this woman’s plight only confirmed my suspicions that the world was mean and uncaring.
I caught myself. This was a dangerous series of thoughts. I didn’t want to continue feeding my rage and have it turn into despair. Instead, I walked up to the woman and her baby.
“Hi, do you need any help?”
She looked at me with grateful surprise and gestured to one of the suitcases. “Yes, could you help me take this down to the bottom of the stairs?”
“Of course!” Although I was already overloaded with my own backpack and tote bag, and the suitcase was about half my height, I grabbed the blue piece of luggage and began hauling it down. Almost immediately I heard someone behind me offer to help the woman grab the other suitcase. I felt lighter in spirit.
At the bottom of the stairs, the woman thanked us profusely and joined her mother. I smiled at them and then went back up the stairs again to meet my train. I was still angry about the group that had shouted at me on the red line platform, but the world was no longer quite so bleak. Even though others had been cruel to me, I had not chosen to pass on that cruelty in order to feel better about my situation. Instead, I had chosen to help someone else. And, in doing so, I had perhaps inspired another person to lend a hand too. My hope and optimism about the human race came trickling back.
Maybe, if I continue to perform small acts of kindness, I’ll influence the people around me to do the same. Maybe all of our little moments of care and love will feed one another and add up into something big. Maybe we’ll start a revolution of kindness this way. I won’t know unless I try.
— S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)