A Fallen Stranger in a Metro

Yesterday I was on my commute home out of Washington. I was getting off the Metro at Union Station to run and catch my train to Virginia when I saw that a woman had fallen ahead of me. It was clear as I approached that she was unconscious.

Immediately, commuters dropped their bags and their briefcases and knelt around her to help her. Another woman – without a moment’s hesitation – pointed her finger right at the metro train operator and said in a firm voice, “Call 911.” The woman, a young African American who looked to be in her 30s, was non-responsive. One woman who had dropped to her knees, a white woman with short dark hair, took the young woman’s head and held it gently so she did not have to rest against the dirty and hard floor. Another woman asked for water. Quickly, someone produced a full bottle of cold water from their bag and handed it into the circle around the fallen woman. Another woman began to speak in a low voice to the unconscious woman, comforting her. I started to pray. I was not the only one.

These commuters, their purses and briefcases abandoned next to them, turned their full attention on this young woman as if they had known her all their lives. The metro station chief arrived and asked if they knew the woman and all but one, who was also kneeling nearby looking so worried, said no. He asked if he should call an ambulance and the woman who had been speaking in a low voice to the unconscious woman, who was now stirring and her eyes were beginning to open, said yes.

All around us, other commuters continued to pass by, but this circle of unknown friends continued to focus all their attention on the woman in trouble. As I prayed I was overcome by this circle of compassion, in a city not known for its heart.

When it was clear that the woman was starting to regain consciousness and the situation was stable, I continued to my train. But I also continued to be overcome myself by the immediate compassion and order of this group of strangers, of all ethnic and racial description, stopping to care for someone they did not know in trouble. For the gentle voice of assurance, for the firm command to know the next step, for the solidarity of ministering together, for a bottle of cold water on a very hot day, for the gathering of others who prayed, and for a moment to find oneself in a city with a heart.