As the line crawled haltingly forward Sunday morning, an elderly man steadied his wife whose tremors had nothing to do with the sub-freezing temperatures and the icy wind blowing down the platform. With one hand he rolled her suitcase while he cradled her arm with his other.
When they reached the conductor, he would’t let the man accompany his wife to the train. “Only ticketed passengers,” he barked. Whatever the old man said provoked yet another “Only ticketed passengers.”
The old man hesitated. He looked at his wife and she at him. Anxiety bred of love and lifetime together flashed across their faces colliding with self-conscious worry because they were holding up the line and forcing people to linger in the cold. Finally, he acquiesced, released his wife’s arm, and stood watching apprehensively as she lurched forward and teetered down the platform without the assistance she needed.
A little girl looked up at her mother:
“Why couldn’t the man go with her?” she asked.
“He didn’t have a ticket. Only people with tickets can go to the train,” her mother replied.
“Why?” the little girl pressed.
“It’s for our safety. Only people with tickets can go to the train,” the mother repeated.
Of course the little girl accepted her mother’s justification about safety. We had all just exited the station where the Amtrak PSA video was on repeat, exhorting us to keep our eyes open for anything: “If you see something, say something.” Every five minutes we had been redeputized to look for anything suspicious—packages, luggage, people, behavior, noises, an old man helping his enfeebled wife board the train, etc. The video doesn’t encourage safety so much as foster paranoia.
Paranoia, however, doesn’t make us safe, it just makes us paranoid and ensures that old women and men will have to struggle down train platforms alone. Yesterday it could have been your mother or father lurching down the platform. Tomorrow it might be you. One day, if we are not careful, it will be our children.
Let’s not defend our fears, especially to our children. Let’s struggle to overcome them so that we leave our children a better world, not a more frightened world.