Compassion on the Green Line

IT WAS A RAW New England night. The passengers were all wearing overcoats. Even the man who appeared to be passed out on a seat in the corner had on a thick suede jacket with sheepskin lining. We all looked down at the muddy floor so we wouldn't make eye contact with any of the other passengers —it's a "tradition" in subway riding. I noticed one young woman who had on thick, white nursing shoes, well-worn and scuffed. An aide in a nursing home or hospital, I figured, getting off a 3 to 11 shift.

Suddenly the drowsy rocking of the train was interrupted by a sharp staccato announcement on the intercom: "This train is ending its run at Kenmore. All passengers depart at Kenmore Station." I could almost hear the collective mental groan as we all braced to step back out into the cold and wait for another train.

We pulled into Kenmore and shuffled out of the car one by one. Except the man in the corner. Some transit official must have noticed him, because two uniformed subway workers came forward and grabbed his elbows and dragged him—like hauling a bag of garbage, I thought —to the base of the subway steps and dropped him. The man's coat had ridden up in the expulsion and bunched around his head, leaving his torso exposed to the cold and his arms caught in a scarecrow position with both elbows extended. The passengers stared as if unable to avert their eyes from the treatment of this man as human refuse. The entire incident was dreamlike.

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Lessons from the pumpkin patch
September 24, 2001

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