I think I’ve decided what I want on my gravestone.


That’s right. On Tuesday, while I was going to work, I helped a woman who’d fallen on to the subway tracks. It was a surreal experience, the kind of thing where you don’t know how you would react until it happens. 

This just doesn’t happen very often. It’s pretty gravestone-worthy as far as life events go. I feel like someone would walk by that tombstone, see the inscription and think, “Wow. That’s amazing.”

The truth of it is, I don’t feel like I deserve any particular accolades. And I’m not just saying that to be humble. I acted without thinking.

I’ve never considered myself particularly brave. There are some things I am not scared of that scare other people (mostly stuff like public speaking and tests) but none of them are particularly dangerous. I tend to default to staying in my house, avoiding trouble, avoiding controversy, avoiding danger. I’m not strong, I’m not fast, I’m just a person. A kind of small-ish person at that. 

But yesterday, out of nowhere, this small-ish person was in a not-so-small situation.

I was transferring over to the red line. (Honestly, being trapped on the tracks of the red line is one of my greatest fears. That train goes fast and the tracks are very deep.) I saw a train pulling away before I could get there. And because I’m one of those subway nerds who knows just how far I need to go down the platform so that when I get off I’ll be right by the place I need to go next, I was heading down to the other end. 

Because a train had just left the platform wasn’t too busy. As I was walking, I heard a voice that wasn’t coming from the platform around me. I looked to see if it was coming from the other side of the tracks. I saw a man near me looking as well. We didn’t see anything. The voice kept calling, soft and grating, “Help, help.” We walked towards the edge of the tracks and saw her. You couldn’t see her unless you came to the very edge of the tracks, she was close to the side but it’s just so deep. 

When I saw her I was shocked. I was thinking to myself that this couldn’t be really happening. But at the same time I was immediately getting down to help and so was the other man. She wasn’t on her feet, I couldn’t tell if she was hurt. She was grabbing around her for her things. She seemed out of sorts. To help her, I told her to give me her things. She did, and then we started trying to pull her up. But she was too heavy. You can’t get any leverage when you’re reaching down so low. And there’s nothing to grab on to. 

I yelled. I yelled so many times. “Help!” It was all I could think to do. I wanted to say, “Help, please! I am just a small person. I’m not strong. I can’t lift her. Please, someone who is bigger and stronger than me, come and help!” But, of course, I couldn’t get that kind of thought out. I just yelled.

Another person came. We pulled her arms and couldn’t get her up. 

I couldn’t think what to do. A train was coming in 2 minutes. I was confident we could get her out in time, but I wasn’t sure. 

I saw a man in an MBTA uniform. I called out for help. He told me they could stop the train from coming into the station. That’s how he put it. He didn’t say they had stopped it, but that they could. And he stayed where he was.

I yelled. There were more people on the platform now, even though most of them were on the other end, having made the same transfer that I just had. But I saw them, I saw them looking at me, I knew they heard me. And they didn’t move. And I just wanted to make them all come and help.

Another man came. We couldn’t pull her up just by her arms, so we had her lift up her leg and had the last man grab it. It took some trying, but we got her up. She got to her feet. I couldn’t tell if she was alright. I asked her if she was hurt, she still seemed out of it and unsure of what was happening. A police officer came and I finally relaxed. He started to ask the woman if she’d fallen, if she’d hit her head and I could step back and let him take over. 

A minute or so later the train came. I got on. I finished my commute.

But the adrenaline. My hands were shaking. I was on the verge of tears. 

For the next two or three hours I felt like I’d just finished sobbing hysterically.

And when I got to work, no one was there. It was just me trying to make sense of what had just happened. I tweeted it because I had to say something and put down the events. And because part of me was still brimming with rage that I’d had to yell for help so many times. 

I thought about how glad I was that the kids weren’t with me. I can’t leave Graham’s side in a public place or he gets hysterical. I thought that I know nothing about this woman, not even her name. I didn’t see her fall. I have no idea what happened to her. And I don’t know anything about the man who found her with me. 

And now I wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t been the first one down the platform. What if I’d been the bystander? Would I have stepped forward? My gut, after this morning, tells me I would’ve. And that is a comforting thing to learn about yourself.

I don’t know that I ever would have called myself “brave.” It’s not the kind of word I would think to use. But I’ve seen people using it to describe how I acted and I can’t really disagree. It is nice to know I can be brave even if I never thought I would be.

Update: The MBTA posted video from the platform. You can clearly see me in the brown sweater. It’s so strange to watch this and see how fast it happened. To me it seemed like ages. I was so in the moment I never even took off my really heavy bag!


  1. Nancy says

    Thank you big handbag lady! I saw you on Universal Hub and I thought “Thank goodness someone actually wants to help the woman who fell on the tracks!”

    Many, many karma points to you!

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