She was almost perfect as she stepped from the train, from the top of her head with its beautifully coiffed, lustrous brunette hair, to the tip of her suede-covered toe which matched the colour of her lovely coat. She politely thanked the young man in the train attendant’s uniform as he placed her large, shiny suitcase onto the platform. “Glad to be of service, miss,” his expression seemed to say. His gaze continued to be locked on her as she looked uncertainly from one end of the platform to the other.
I, on the other hand, was nowhere near perfect as I waited impatiently for her to step away from the door so I could board the train. My unruly hair never approaches beautifully coiffed on the best of days, and the breezes that were blowing that morning had left my hair flying around my head in a mess of tangles that obstructed my vision and tried my patience. My clothes were comfortable, but perfectly matched? Uh, no. The young man in the train attendant’s uniform didn’t even glance in my direction, let alone offer to help me stow my own rather large suitcase.
The young woman continued to stand in front of the doorway, effectively blocking my ability to enter the train. My patience ran out and I stepped purposefully toward the door. I heard her murmur “pardon” as she moved aside in response to my invasion of her space. I stepped past her and onto the train. Wrestling my luggage onto the rack, I thought to myself, “you should enjoy that while it lasts, young lady, always having someone offering you their help without you even asking. Someday you’ll be a middle-aged woman like me, with thinning hair that has lost its luster, with a body that is succumbing to the forces of gravity with many parts several inches lower than where they started, wearing faded Levi’s and a t-shirt from Old Navy because they’re comfortable and wash easily at the laundromat. Then you’ll have to figure out how to do things for yourself.” I don’t know whether or not I harrumphed audibly, but I certainly did in my head.
As I settled into my seat on the train, though, I began to examine my attitude a little more thoughtfully. Train trips are wonderful opportunities for reflection. I could try and make excuses for myself and my less than gracious interaction with the young woman. I was overtired and overheated. I started the trip emotionally depleted and needing a break which meant my stress level was high. I was fearful about making sure I got onto the right train. (I’ve been the woman who got on the wrong train so I know I’m quite capable of making that mistake.) The truth of the matter, though, is that I have no excuse. The nameless young woman will probably never understand how I allowed my focus to be on myself, how I let fear get the upper hand, how I let a small pebble of resentment fall into my heart for a brief moment until its ripples reached the edges of my soul and allowed me to overlook someone else’s humanity.
I believe that humans, all of us, are created in the image of God. Just as God has treated me with grace, my goal is to treat others with respect and grace. I want my actions to match what I say I believe. Being nice is not enough, I’m trying to be a better human being, and the only way to do that is to stretch my soul, bit by bit, into a different shape.
So this is me, saying now to that nameless woman what I wish I’d thought then. “Truly enjoy the privilege life has given you. You are very pretty and people are going to go out of their way to treat you well. I don’t begrudge you one day of this season of your life. At the same time grab every opportunity to develop your abilities and your internal sense of authority, because it’s quite likely that at some point in the future you may not be as attractive as you are now. These things are inevitable and part of everyone’s life. But even after physical attractiveness begins to fade, your talent, knowledge and ability will be there and will be growing. Build on that. Invest in those. And, thank you for overlooking the manners of a middle-aged woman that day on the train platform. You showed more grace than I did.”