It’s raining when I leave. I say an early morning goodbye to the kids and the hubs and the house to attend first day of University. For the second time.
Me, pushing 40.
The subway is crowded and my pant legs are muddy and I stand scrunched in a corner next to a man who uses my head as a prop for his morning newspaper.
Somewhere near the Dongmen Bridge it happens. A man standing in car #105513 passes out. I see the crowd move like a tidal wave away from him. Bodies circle around him where he lays collapsed. From my corner spot, I see his legs protruding from the circle of bystanders.
Everyone seems frozen. Unsure? Uncaring? I wonder if the man is traveling alone? Is there anyone here who can help him?
No one steps forward. No one stretches out a hand.
Just as suddenly as his collapse, the man scrambles to his feet and white-knuckle grips the overhead handle bar. A few standing close start to snicker, undoubtedly relieved the ordeal is over. Someone has the sense to give up their seat. He stumbles to sit, sinks back and leans his head against the side of the car.
He’s sitting on the same side I’m on, about 15 feet away and I watch him. He’s young, maybe 25? Then he groans and closes his eyes. We are all riveted.
When he starts to slide down on top of the gal beside him, I know he’s passed out again. She reaches out and tries to push him off but she can’t. She’s holding him up, looking wild at the passengers around her. She’s panicked and desperate and her eyes plead for someone to help.
Not a soul budges. Everyone stands and stares and doesn’t move a muscle.
The man needs medical attention and why doesn’t someone near him make a phone call? Push the emergency button? Yell for medical assistance? Something? I’m just a foreigner, an outsider. I’m no one’s savior.
But I can’t wait any longer. I hoist my bag and push my way through 15 feet of people. I grab him with both hands and gently right his unconscious body. “This man needs medical attention. Where is the emergency button on this subway?”
No one knows. Everyone seems relieved that someone has stepped forward. Like I know what I’m doing. I don’t.
I ask a woman nearby to contact the subway’s security. “I don’t know how to call them,” she tells me.
Why won’t somebody do something?
The man is still out and he’s lost control of his bladder. Urine drips down the seat, puddles the floor. Another stop comes and goes and we’re still trying to get help.
The young man briefly comes to and tries to sit up. “It’s okay,” I tell him. My hands are on his shoulders. He blacks out again.
Where is that emergency button? I keep asking. I finally find the button and press it.
I’ve been elected in charge so I’m making the executive decision: “When we stop, someone needs to get off and alert security that this passenger needs medical attention,” I tell the passengers. I’m staying with him. At the next stop, a woman jumps off and starts yelling for security. The train shuts the doors and leaves without her… and without help.
The young man’s face is beaded with sweat. He opens his eyes and looks at me. There is green matter rolled in the corner of his left eye. “We’re going to help you,” I reassure him. My hands still hold him tight. I’m straddling urine.
His body relaxes. “Thank you,” he whispers.
Security is standing on the platform at the next stop. We are able to get the young man off the subway and to the medical station. I see him to safety and continue on to my stop.
It’s still raining when I exit the subway station, the world above oblivious to the cares of a single soul struggling in the bowels below. I dodge puddles and on-coming traffic as I walk to the University. I can’t help but wonder it: “What if it had been me on that subway? Would anyone have come to my aid?”
I’m pretty sure of the answer.
And there comes a time in a person’s life when she senses her own deep helplessness, her raw need, her vulnerability, her sheer isolation. Past our exteriors and our busyness, our smiles and successes and accomplishments, deep in the bowels of the soul, we know we’re depraved deep and broken to boot. And no one is capable of reaching us. No one can bridge the gap. No one can put us back together.
I groan guteral with David, “Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.“ Psalm 142:4
Surely we all are that young man on the subway.
But there’s something else. There’s another whisper flooding in, giving hope, speaking truth. God’s voice speaks as One who takes notice of man. “I looked, but there was no one to help, and I was amazed that no one assisted; so My arm accomplished victory for Me…My own arm brought salvation.” Isaiah 63:5
And it’s the good news we can cling to, that when there was no one to step in and rescue, God Himself donned flesh and came down to dwell among men. God ate with sinners and He spit in dirt and He asked, “Do you believe?” And He said to the broken, “Your sins are forgiven you.”
The profane is transformed by the Sacred, the broken redeemed by a Lamb, the dead given new life.
We have a Savior.
It’s just that in the midst of the mud and the mess and the mundane, we need reminders. On that muddy walk to University I notice the bottom of my bag smells of urine.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
At the University, I duck into the bathroom to wash my hands. Glancing in the mirror, I’m surprised to see the cross prominently hanging around my neck. I had forgotten I was wearing it. The gold shines beautiful there against the black backdrop of my top.
The cross. God’s message to us, His assurance that everything really is okay.
The cross! I pray the young man and train passengers saw the cross today, dangling from the neck of someone who said, “I’ll help you.”
The cross speaks truth when we’re desperate lost and need to know there’s a way.
The cross is the daily reminder when we’re buried in the daily to-dos.
The cross says when we were without hope in this world … Jesus came.
When we were aliens and strangers … Jesus came.
When we were separated, isolated, excluded from citizenship … Jesus came.
When we were dead in our transgressions and sins … Jesus came.
He hoisted the cross and He bridged the gap and went the distance and He reached out and He rescued the needy. With complete competency and wild devotion He said, “I will help you.”
There in the mirror, I look at the cross against the backdrop of black. In my weakness and inability and failure, smelling of urine and mud, I hear its message afresh: “Don’t be afraid, you little Jacob. I will help you.”
It’s the hope of the redeemed that changes her life. It’s the truth that propels her onto the streets, into the classroom, onto the subways. The cross changes everything.