My mistake was being in a hurry.
Of course, I had good reason to hurry. At my daughter’s art class I’d missed three phone calls in a row from my husband. He was home with our youngest. When I called back, no one was there to pick up.
He was supposed to be there. Where was he? What had happened?
Worry stroked the sides of my heart and I grabbed my daughter’s hand and we hurried towards the train station. What was wrong?
It was rush hour in Buenos Aires. In rush hour, the trains are crammed.
I lived in Argentina in my twenties and knew what a packed railroad car is. I had not, however, been in one before with my children.
At the train station, I found out (fear still holding on to my aorta) that the trains weren’t running for another fifteen minutes. The train platform was full of people waiting out the delay. My daughter and I bought a snack to eat while we waited.
I called again. No answer.
I ate mechanically, worrying. Where could they be? Why had he called? How quickly could we get home?
The good news was we were only two stops from home. Two stops and six blocks.
The train arrived, and the people surged forward. Even as the cars slowed, my heart sank. They were mashed full of people. Of course: the delayed train had only compounded the rush hour traffic, and now, the train was worse than packed. I grabbed my daughter’s hand and pushed our way aboard.
That’s when I realized I’d made a huge mistake.
None of the people around us could see my six year old. The bodies were packed so tightly I couldn’t even bend down to pick her up. All I could do was circle my left arm behind the guy standing in front of me, pressing my hand into his back.
He probably weighed close to 200 pounds. If he fell, I would not be able to stop him.
The train surged towards its next destination, and I had a few minutes to taste the hot metal of fear in my mouth. And to wonder why I had put my daughter into danger. Why had I gotten on board the train? Why had I not waited for the one that followed, or taken a bus, which would have easily gotten us home? I had so many ways to get us home that I didn’t need to place my daughter’s body in that crush of people.
But in my hurry, I didn’t see. In my panic, I forgot to think.
So often, in life, the urgent overshadows my ability to see the truly important.
The urgency of my tiredness means I snap at my children or threaten them when kind words and patience is what’s important.
The urgent fear of failure makes me work too hard or compare myself to other writers instead of focusing on the importance of rest and generosity of heart.
The urgent thrum of anger from past hurts make me want to push God away instead of being prayerfully honest with him.
It’s been a few years, and I don’t exactly blame myself for the train experience. I couldn’t see how dangerous the space would be for my daughter until I physically couldn’t escape it. And I decided to get off the train at the next stop—giving us a long walk, but blessed air and safety once we were free of the crowd. Once home, we found out the missed calls were no big deal.
For me, the train served as a remember that I always have choices. I could choose to wait. I could choose to take a bus. I could choose to hail a cab. After that day, confronted with vulnerable kids and an overfull train, I chose differently.
It was a gift to emerge from that car with only my fright to show for it. It was a gift to remember that with kids, hurrying is almost never worth it.
A gift to take stock of what’s really urgent long-term.
Life offers dizzying choices–and trade-offs–to consider. A chance to count to five before snapping or hitting or threatening. A chance to take deep breaths and write an encouraging note to someone I know is struggling with creativity. A chance to pray despite my hurt.
It is worth being serious about deciding what’s most important to us before the urgent overshadows our best intentions.
There is a choice. It’s not always easy to see. It’s not without inconvenience or risk. But woe to us if we haven’t practiced seeing past the urgent when the crowd presses us forward.