I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the importance of making connections — real connections with real human beings based on real things, be they deep or delightfully mundane. Lo and behold, this unfolds on my way home from the doctor’s office last week.

Seriously, what happened to Toronto the Good?

I was on the eastbound train when I heard a conversation starting to get pretty heated. At first, I thought some friends were just having a slightly heated debate about something or other, but as the volume continued to rise and the rubber-necking began, I realized something bigger was happening. Two complete strangers were making a connection, but not the kind that I’m partial to.

From my vantage point, I couldn’t see a thing but the looks on my fellow travellers’ faces — a mix of curiosity, embarrassment, and fear — said enough. And then the volume peaked.

I didn’t catch much of what was going down. The yelling was a bit of a blur. But then, as we were pulling into a station, I heard the word GUN loud and clear. The train doors opened. I stood up. Several people got off. I didn’t. I could see there was an altercation going on — not physical yet but on the cusp. While there’s no way I would have intervened, I suppose something called me to remain — perhaps so that I could push the yellow alarm strip if need be.

Thankfully somebody got to the yellow strip before me. The doors closed and remained closed. The train stood still. Said one angry, 20-something big-mouthed guy to the other:

“What gun? You don’t have a gun? I’m gonna show you man, but I’m not gonna do it on this train. Just wait ’til we get off.”

The doors opened. The train remained still. Big Mouth took off and ran up the stairs. His lanky, probably-not-really-gun-toting opponent disappeared and magically reappeared a few minutes later (had he been hiding?), then made his way up the stairs, a safe distance behind Big Mouth.

Some passengers remained silent, earbuds back in ears and eyes back to their phones. Others began making connections.

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A lot of ugly things were said on the train that day.

As I got chatting to two people seated in my vicinity, I learned what had triggered the fight between the two young men. Apparently, Big Mouth had begun shouting out his hateful feelings towards Muslims and Jews. Clearly, being part of one minority group (Big Mouth was African-American) doesn’t necessarily instil compassion towards another.

Here’s the weird thing. The fight started because Mr. Skinny decided to be a hero. He starting shouting at Big Mouth to shut him up and put his hands in his pants to imply he had a gun in there [insert rude joke]. For a second I thought, good on you Mr. Skinny. Standing up against prejudice. That a boy. But then I learned that he’d called Big Mouth a faggot.

When I initially heard about Mr. Skinny’s use of the F-word from a tall, chubby man who I’d venture to say was gay, I responded by saying: “Well, at least he was standing up against hate. Heart in a good place. Bad choice of words.”

Looking back on that, what the hell was I thinking? How did Mr. Tall & Chubby feel hearing me cheer on Mr. Skinny for standing up against Big Mouth’s anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish rants and then, in the next breath, completely dismissing his having hurled around that word?

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If I can offer up any excuse for my poor judgement (that’s a big IF), all I can say is this: I’m an optimist. Having heard what Big Mouth had been saying, I gravitated towards something to restore my faith. I gravitated towards Mr. Skinny. Turns out he’s no better than Big Mouth though. As for me, a bit of sensitivity training, perhaps?

What does any of this have to do with making connections?

After the above conversation had ended, Mr. Tall & Chubby and I continued talking with one another, as well as the Cat Lady sitting opposite us. I love dogs myself, but as I mentioned, I’m also big on making connections right now so I was all ears and eyes with these strangers.

– Gareth Cook explains why we are wired to connect

Cat Lady said she had a 30 lb cat in her carry case. I saw its head poke out. It was black and stunning and didn’t look more than 18 lbs to me but who was I to argue. She clearly loved her cat so I listened attentively as she told me why it/he/she was so special. Apparently, it was cat’s first time on a train. Cat Lady hoped the altercation between Big Mouth and Mr. Skinny hadn’t upset it/he/she too much. I found that rather daft but charming.

All this cat talk was more than Mr. Tall & Chubby could handle. He, too, had a cat and he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to share his kitty pictures with us, and so that’s what he did. He had to get off the train before he could find the video he wanted to show me.

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Making connections may not be life-altering but it’s certainly good for the spirits

We always have the choice of looking down at our feet while we stroll or looking straight into the eyes of people we pass on the street. We always have the choice of jumping straight to, “Tall latte, please” or prefacing it with a heartfelt, “Hi, how’s your day going?” 

We always have the choice of going about our day as if we belong to a group of one or as if we are one in a group that is called community. 

Community: a feeling of fellowship with others

Making connections shouldn’t be hard. We shouldn’t have to trip on the sidewalk to be acknowledged (if lucky) by a kind and concerned citizen, nor should we have to witness a public brawl in order to smile at complete strangers and exchange sweet stories.

Was my experience on the eastbound train life-altering? Absolutely not, but it was certainly mood-altering, and it reinforced why it is that I feel this need to seek out more human connection. Because we are, as Aristotle said, social animals by nature.

Let’s not underestimate the power of connection. Want to make one now? Go ahead. Drop me a comment. I don’t bite. Promise.

Viv for Today xo

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