Category Archives: Strangers on a train

My Pasmo Pal


When I got off the train at Shibuya this morning, I noticed that my Pasmo prepaid train card wasn’t in its usual pocket in my backpack. After a moment of frantic scrambling, I realized I must have dropped it on the train. I scurried back and spotted my card lying on the floor just as the doors were closing.

SHIT! I said out loud.

It wasn’t a great monetary loss; there was only about 1000yen left on it. And in this honesty loving country, there’s a good chance I would eventually have gotten it back. It has my name printed on it and I registered my phone number with the train people when I bought it. But I would have had to go to the ticket counter, explain the situation, fill out a form, pay an extra fare, inconvenience throngs of other morning travelers, be late for work and get myself into a foul mood.

As all of that passed before my eyes, a young man on the train must have seen my expression and followed my eye line, because he immediately bent down, picked up my card, and waved it at me with a big smile. I nodded and smiled back with enthusiasm. Then we had a “what now?” moment and came to the same conclusion at the same moment. We both stepped toward the window, which he opened and passed my card to me just as the train started pulling out of the station.


I hope the unicorns of destiny did something particularly nice for him today. Grasping a moment to do something kind without thinking twice is a mark of all that is good in humanity. I have felt warm and fuzzy all day.

Madonna and Me

I spent some time in Europe years ago, and being a big fan of museums, saw a lot of church art. There’s a lot of it to see. And I love it, especially the Renaissance. The understated elegance, gentle pastel colors, small-breasted women with realistic hips and thighs…. There are so many Madonna and Child paintings, I started to think they were pre-Facebook albums of endless baby pictures that at root had nothing to do with Mary or Jesus and more to do with mothers showing off their babies.

Still, I loved them, but once you’ve seen your 4000th Madonna and Child, they start to blend into one big renaissance nursery school. And then I saw this one by Raphael.

Madonna and Child

Not only is mom wearing two of my favorite colors, in loosely draped comfort no less, her hand is resting gently against her baby’s side. But more than that, his palm is resting against her chest, making just the slightest depression in the fabric, so open, so trusting, so safe and secure. It touched me more than the thousands I’d seen before or since.

When I was small, my mother would hold me on her lap and run her finger along my not-yet-greasy little girl face and say quiet things. All these years later, I remember that feeling of warmth and trust and safety and security. And now I look back on that blissful innocence and I’m grateful for it. I’m also starting to understand why women like fur coats.

I was riding a train the other day and standing in the corner by the door at just above the height of my knees was a little boy, I would guess about four years old. Judging by the intent look on his little man face, he was coping with some sort of crisis.

His mother knelt in front of him, speaking softly. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but watched his brow knit as he tried to come to terms with whatever the problem was. Then I noticed his open hand resting on his mother’s arm, not holding on, just resting. As much as he was struggling, it seemed that gentle touch was keeping him tethered to his mother, the reality of the train, the city, the world, as he tried to make sense of whatever was bothering him.


The parent-that-never-was in me felt a pang as powerful as I’ve ever felt anything and it left me panting.

And then it was gone, filed away with all the other impossible, improbable, unexpected, inevitable chances that might have been, possibilities that have come and gone, opportunities taken and lost. It was decidedly another dent in the armor, a vulnerability I didn’t know I had, but from that I think I can find strength. I’m developing into whoever it is I will be on this next leg of my life’s journey, and as I grope for the future, I hope that little guy found a handhold to grasp onto and moved on, as we all inevitably must.