I just experienced another of those confounded divine appointments, on a train journey.
I entered the carriage and sat at one end, and within moments became aware of a situation happening at the other end. A young man was verbally abusing some little children sitting with him. It was startling, confronting. My first instinct was to get up and move away to another carriage; others probably already had, the carriage was empty but for me and this group. I sat tight, prayed, even asked friends on Facebook what I should do, if anything. God, help me to see the King in this situation. Tell me what to do.
Over the next half an hour, the situation vacillated between outright rage from this person towards the children, to quiet moments where one would climb on his lap and all would be quiet. Then the mood would change in seconds and he would snap at them yelling at the top of his voice. At one point he took a phone call from a Telco, demanding payment of $250 for an internet service he hadn’t even used yet. I know this, because the conversation was conducted at volume, in detail, between demands for the children to sit down and be quiet, using some colourful language. Then someone else phoned him, and he explained he was on his way and couldn’t make the train go faster, and was planning to be there at five in time but had been held up thirty minutes by trackwork, which was out of his hands. All this time, the kids giggled, and laughed, punctuated by silences which followed his tirades of frustrated anger. As time went on, it became clear this wasn’t simply some hot-headed bogan taking it out on his kids…this guy was doing something very stressful (ever taken three kids under ten on a long train journey?) and was having, as well as that, a very bad day.
My head was saying, get the hell out of here. A young guy brushed past him and touched his leg, eliciting another tirade of expletives. I thought, if get closer, and say the wrong thing, this guy could start swinging. But my guts were saying “Get closer. Wait for an in.” Are you crazy? I don’t want an in…I want an out. But I couldn’t do it. So at the next stop, I pretended I just got on the train and sat three seats away from them.
Last week, there was a huge controversy in Australia when vision taken on a phone of a woman in a verbal rage on a train over a seat – on this very route, in fact – went viral on TV and the internet. Everyone had an opinion about the woman and what should’ve been done about her rage-filled racist tirade on a crowded commuter train, other than film it, which is what everyone actually did. I don’t know what I would’ve done, but I hoped I would’ve offered her my seat, then stood between her and the subject of her abuse, well, that’s what I like to think I would’ve done. And here I was today, in this incredibly gut-wrenching situation thinking, here’s the chance to see the King, bring the King, be the King. What are you going to do, Jo?
God – I have no idea. Give me an in, and let’s see what happens.
A second later, one of the girls says, “Daddy, I’m thirsty.” “I don’t got no water, I didn’t have time to get water. You’ll have to wait until we get to Sydney.” I know that’s two and a half more hours away. I remember I have a bottle of water in my bag with one slurp out of it. Here’s my in. I take a big breath, grab the water, and head across the aisle. I drop to my haunches, look the guy in the eyes, and in a quiet (trembling) voice, I offer my water for the girls.
He stares me in the eyes for the longest second, like he’s trying to decide whether to haul off and punch me, or thank me.
He thanks me.
I smile. I tell him I can see and hear he is having a very bad day. He tells me he is taking the girls to Sydney to meet a child services worker, and has to be there by five pm. I say, wow, that’s stressful, and you can’t make the train go faster, can you? No, he says, he looks like he might cry. His voice is low and his eyes are on mine. I turn to the girls and ask them their names, they giggle and tell me the longest most impossible-to-repeat back names I have ever heard. I gasp, and tell them I had no idea I was sitting so close to real, live PRINCESSES. Where are their crowns? Do they have glittery gowns on under their jeans? They laugh, their dad relaxes. I tell him I know how hard it is to take little kids on a train, and he’s doing a great job, and his family is beautiful, he must be so proud. I touch his arm and smile. I feel as though I am about to shake to pieces.
It’s almost my stop. I tell the guy I think he can refill the bottle in the rest room downstairs, and ask the girls to kiss their fairy friends for me. I go. The carriage feels filled with light, like fairy glitter is everywhere. I am crying and trembling when I step onto the platform. I don’t know what happens when I leave. Oh, God, bless those little girls. God, help them never to forget the King loves them, sees them, knows them.
And may that dude know he is not alone, he is doing hard things, and he is seen doing them, and is respected, because I know what it’s like to feel like you are doing very hard things and nobody knows, or sees, and when they do, they only see how badly you’re behaving, or how wrong you are, or what a monster you’re capable of becoming when you’re stressed. I hope he feels seen, heard, and noticed for who I feel he really is under all that anger and emotion and frustration. Because he is us, and he is me, and you.
See the King, hear the King, be the King.
Love, Jo xxx