I’ve always found it off the mark – in places like Pakistan or Israel or anywhere there is repeated violence as part of civilian life – to laud the “resilience” of everyday people in continuing to live their lives in the face of tragedies.
The day before yesterday, on Tuesday night at 6:20pm, seven people died when an MTA commuter train slammed into a Mercedes SUV that was inexplicably stopped on the train tracks, even though the guard gates were down. The woman driving the car, Ellen Brody, was killed as were five passengers in the front car of the train.
The accident happened on the train line I take every day, around the time I usually ride home, about five miles north of where I get off the train.
Yesterday, thirteen hours after the accident, I trudged to my train stop to go to work. People are mostly silent on the platform on winter mornings, and it was as quiet as ever. Eerily, though no one was saying anything, about 2/3rds of the people who usually wait for the first car of the train weren’t standing in their everyday spots.
Once on the train, I talked with some of the passengers around me about what had happened. Mostly, though, people were quiet, reading their papers or their books, maybe shaken on the inside, but having what appeared to be a normal morning.
When I got to Grand Central Station, the only indication that anything had happened was this announcement on the train’s schedule board. No acknowledgment of what had happened, no words of condolences or solidarity with the victims.
Even when things are this close to home, we can block them out and avoid the proximity. I’d been shaken by this tragedy, but it took this description in a New York Times article to make my stomach clench up and allow me to see myself in that front car of the train.
One witness, Chris Gross, appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” said that he had been watching a Mel Brooks movie in the front car when suddenly the train was jolted.
“People started falling over each other,” he said. He was tossed into the aisle and saw flames, and he heard a man in front of him screaming.
“I turned over and looked,” Mr. Gross said. The man in front of him “lost his leg below his knee.”
In the chaos, he said, a man who had burns on his hands managed to pull the emergency latch so they could escape.
The man with the burns, Mr. Gross said, plunged his hands in the snow, hoping for some relief.
Today, on the train home, the same group of guys is playing bridge like they do every day in this car. As they wrap up their game, they talk about the twist in the road, what happened with the driver of the Jeep, how such a thing could have happened. But the conversations are clipped, and there aren’t many of them. People might be thinking about the victim’s families, or feeling especially grateful for good health, safety, and the chance to hug their kids tonight.
But resilient? No, I’m not feeling or seeing resiliance. I feel shaken and a little bit numb, like going on with my day and my life was at best a neutral choice, not a display of courage.