There’s a phrase I’ve come across among Quakers about living the kingdom of heaven on earth. It’s about making the kingdom, the just world, happen here and now, not at some unknown future time after our death. I’m often reminded of this world at Whitechapel station in London of all places! Because it is here that the overground trains pass underneath the underground trains. Just like living a world turned upside down. I see this scene most often when I’m returning home from my work at Quaker Social Action, an organisation that talks about working for a just world in its vision statement, so the timing seems apt.
On the Overground this morning, I caught a man. It wasn’t an every day experience. We were holding on 2-3 deep along the aisle, just coming into Surrey Quays when a man began to fall. His legs gave way and then he let go of the strap he was holding onto.
I sort of caught his back, then his head, so he didn’t bash it as he fell. It was almost as if he was swooping.
Then, my first thought was, “If you’re having a fit I’m the worst person to be near you.” Thankfully, some of the other passengers were more aware of what to do.
I realised afterwards that I did a selfish thing in the midst of it – I checked my page number (60) so I wouldn’t lose my place in the book. It was additionally stupid as I had randomly opened the book and started reading when I got on the train. But that’s Brett Easton Ellis’s work for you.
Other people got off the train and some got on. Someone called for the emergency cord to be pulled. Eventually someone did so and a monotonous beeping sound started.
Someone called out for water. When none was immediately forthcoming they called “a man has collapsed, can we have water?” It turns out that very few of us carry water, or are willing to give it up. Two women came forward with water.
The man came round and we found out that he wasn’t having a fit, he said he had been for a blood test that morning. And he hadn’t recovered yet.
A woman pushed through the crowd of passengers. I stopped her, there’s a man down. “I’m a nurse,” she said. I felt a bit embarrassed then.
Really, the man was being a fool, but it’s easy to be so. But I’m a fool too, many of us are. If you’re feeling ill, ask for a seat, but many of us don’t. You could be saving yourself and everyone else on your train an unexpected delay. I remember looking at him and seeing how visibly white he was, completely drained of colour and looking frail.
The man got off at Canada Water, the next stop, and a woman stayed with him, chatting and being his guardian angel.