Sep 15, 2017

10 COMPASSION VERSES PERSONAL SAFETY

One of the most challenging things using public transit is balancing compassion for others with personal safety. I have often encountered many people suffering with mental health issues and it can be at times very scary. I don't judge it. I have learnt though to keep my countinance calm and pay attention when I hear the self-talk happening. I have observed that sometimes it is benign and there's no real cause for concerns. I have however experience situations where there were absolute cause for great concerns due to the escalating self-talk in volume, agitation and physical random body movements. In these circumstance there is a real threat which of violence either physical or verbal.

ATTACK ON THE BUS - One of my experiences
I jumped on the wrong bus one evening on my way home from work. There are two buses that park in this same spot, one of them is the one I need to get home. It was raining heavily this particular evening. I was tired and in bad need of a washroom. I sat sat down and waited for the bus to depart. A older robust causcasian woman came n with a shopping cart talking to herself. I am familiar with her by virtue of travelling on the same bus sometimes or waiting at the same stop and know that she suffers from mental illness (for the most part she is relatively harmless -sort of). It did not register at the time that I was on the wrong bus. The driver arrived and soon we were on the road. The woman continued talking to herself, no one paid her any mind for the most part though you could see some people shift uncomfortably. She continued.

As bus traveled the woman became louder and louder. She began to shout racial slurs. "Fucking nigger go back to Jamaica! The nazis had it right, fucking pieces of shit, monkey!" Everyone shifted uncomfortably. I am alert and watchful though to see me I am the picture of calm. She got even louder. She sat on a three-seater, on the left side of her sat an Afro-Caribbean woman. There middle seat was empty. I sat on a two-seater facing front on the right side of the Afro-Caribbean woman. She was glued to her cellphone playing a game. What happened next was something to behold.

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I stopped reading my book and closed my tablet as I realized the lady was escalating dramatically. As I paused, I put my tablet in my bag and prayed that she would deescalate and simply go back to her somewhat quiet self-talk. As quickly as the silent prayer was finished I saw her turn and launched with hands outstretched to the Afro-Caribbean woman sitting to the left of her the word nigger on her lips. I shouted stop! I stood an pulled the Afro-Caribbean woman out of her reach. She jumped and pulled her hands back and proceeded to verbally attack me calling me nigger and every derogatory racial slur she could come up with. At this point she is standing. The Afro-Caribbean woman I rescued sat in shock she was so focused on her game she didn't realized she was almost attacked until I pulled her out of harm's way. Frightened she kept saying, "but I didn't do anything, I didn't do anything." Everything seemed frozen in that moment, some passengers were standing, some sitting others coming up from the back.

The bus driver stopped the bus and asked the raging woman to leave but she was to intent on me, angry spittle was coming out in her raging tirade. I said to her, "stop it, you are being offensive." It got worst and the nigger bombs came flying out her mouth.

I stood up as she advance on me. While all this was happening the driver an elderly causcasian man is asking her to leave the bus. She turns to him finally hearing and ask with incredulousness, you asking me to leave?" He said, "yes, leave now, get off my bus." She turned back to me enraged, made a sound in the back of her throat like she gathering to spit. I heard every black person on the bus take a deep breath. I saw from my peripheral vision and in front of me everyone of us moved back slightly as if to brace ourselves. I looked at her dead in the eye, my right hand up in a stop motion and said, "you wouldn't dare." I held her stare my eyes mutinous and she swallowed her spit. The driver having had enough of her got out of his seat and shouted, "get off my bus now!" She left.

This experience is not my first. It is by far the most harrowing. It is a complex situation. On one hand you know this person is not well mentally and you have compassion and empathy for them. On the other hand your safety is at risk from this very person. Luckily the driver was very good at intervening and helping greatly.

In the end, even with all that happened I found myself feeling sad at the whole situation and that she had to be booted from the bus in the rain.

Such experiences seem to be occurring more frequently. Just yesterday I had to comfort a terrified woman who was being verbally abused by another person with mental health issues.

VERBAL ATTACK ON THE STREETCAR
I stood close to the front on the streetcar afterwork on the way to the subway. When I boarded I passed a young South Asian man standing close to the front door. He was shaking and talking to himself periodically. At the next stop as I move down a little a gentleman offered me his seat. I said thank you and declined as it was just 3 more stops to the subway. The south Asian gentleman by the front door took the vacated seat, next to him sat a Chinese lady in her mid to late 30s. She sat spine straight eyes forward. The young man said something to her. She hesitated slightly then answered. The man kept talking drawing closer. I can see her get visibly uncomfortable. She said quietly, "I sorry, I don't speak very much English, I don't understand." He looked at her and aggressively said, "you think am stupid, you bitch!" Her face frozen shock. She swallowed. She opened her mouth, closed it. Her forehead wrinkled in stress as her throat worked furiously. She looked left, right almost lost while the man kept up his unslaughter of "bitch". I put my hand on both hers clasps tightly and squeezed gently shaking my head in the negative asking her to remain quiet. The woman sitting next to her did the same. She looked at both of us. Took a deep breath in relief. She kept her eyes on my after that. We reached the subway and people started leaving. She was afraid to move. The gentleman got up took a look at her and said, "bitch" she flinched and lean towards me and held the other woman's hand. We waited with her until the man left the streetcar.

Outside the streetcar still so frightened she ask both the woman and I, &are you going east? The other woman answered, "no I am going west." I answered, "yes I am going east." She looked at me with emploring eyes and asked, "can I travel with you?"  "Sure," I said. She kept saying,  "thank you, thank you, I am so scared. Thank you for your help." I explained that the gentleman really didn't mean her any harm and that he is living with mental illness. She looked at me like I sprang 3 heads. I smile because I understand the feeling all to well.

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