It was one of those fall nights; the sun heading to bed earlier and earlier - a soft reminder of the long, Chicago winter ahead. Each gust of wind creating an eerie feeling, making some of the last fallen leaves dance in a tornado like fashion around my feet as I duck my nose and mouth into my heavy scarf for warmth- comfort maybe. Suburban quiet.
Standing at the quiet Central train stop waiting for the Purple line to take me back to the city, I pull my phone out of my pocket to check the time, thinking how city life has made me quite impatient. I am jolted out of my own thoughts as I see him turn the corner from the parking lot and walk towards me, rubbing his hands together and digging them deep into his coat pockets for warmth. I can tell immediately that he is not from here- lost.
“Where board train to Evanston? Buy tickets?,” he asks me with a thick accent, confirming my thoughts.
“Up the stairs on the left. Get off at Davis,” I say and point, avoiding eye contact and any further conversation. The introverted, guarded, 26-year old woman standing alone coming to the forefront as he nods and continues past me, following my useless, cold directions. Back to my phone.
It was about two minutes later that I turn around, becoming ever more aware of this late train and the fact that I am still the only one standing on this platform, when I see him pacing the station lobby looking at a map, seemingly desperate for any direction whatsoever.
“Where ya headed?” I yell, surprising myself as I slowly take out my headphones one by one, my voice echoing throughout the empty train station.
He looks up and audibly sighs- relieved.
“Evanston City. Church- Davis… I think?”
I laugh to myself as I am immediately taken back by the kindness in his big, dark eyes, shaking my head as to how I was scared of this innocent man just a few minutes prior.
“Here,” I say as I take his phone and open Google Maps, showing the best route to his destination. I turn my body away to face the tracks. Back to my phone.
“Wabi. Like Wasabi, but without the ‘s,’” He says, as I see him out of the corner of my eye, holding his hand out with a wide, bright smile.
A few minutes later, sitting across the aisle from me in the overly lit train car, I learn Wabi is South African and in school to become a doctor. His light, navy blue windbreaker doing little in shielding him from the Chicago cold, but justifiable after learning that he is in town from California, apartment hunting for when he makes his cross-country move in just a couple months. Not knowing a soul—a chance, fearless move I have always admired in people.
As the train makes its gradual stop at Davis Street, he slowly stands from his seat and reaches his hand out again.
“Thank you… thank you so much.”
His kind, genuine eyes saying more than any “thank you” could. Eyes I never would have seen if I didn’t look up from the bright, illuminated screen on my phone. Eyes I never would have seen if I didn’t turn around and decide to take a chance and help.
I watch him walk out, unnecessarily ducking his head as he passes through the beeping train doors. I lean my head back against the cold train wall and smile to myself, sliding my phone into the side pocket of my purse.
How simple…one look, one step, one simple interaction to completely burst the small, thick bubble that so many of us blindly live under every single day.
Total vulnerability. Taking that chance and stepping out of the large comfort zone so many of us build around ourselves isn’t the scariest thing in the world--it only, for a moment, feels that way. Because to take that leap into the unknown, to stand on your own two feet, lend a helping hand and follow your heart, is to be the truest (and best) version of yourself--and the reward is in that alone.