My commute is a long one, a little over an hour on two different trains. The New York City subway is efficient, but not exactly luxurious, and not my favorite place to kill so much time. But at least I live at the beginning of the line. Comfort notwithstanding, I always have a place to sit, eat, and work on these blog posts, which usually makes for as relaxing ride as a subway rider can expect.

Not today. After pulling away from every stop, the train would jerk violently, tossing the passengers around the car, whether seated or not. More than once I had to apologize to my neighbors for almost dumping my breakfast into their laps. Writing was out of the question. A book or a phone would just end up on the floor.  Those who had the time could get off and wait, trying their luck on the next train, but for us commuters this was it. There was nothing any of us could do but brace ourselves for the next impact and, probably, work out how we’d tell the story to our co-workers. It was irritating, but not the end of the world – at least for most of us.

A little girl who couldn’t be older than six with wet eyes, apparently already at her wits’ end this morning, boarded the train. She was accompanied by her mother, perhaps on her way to school, definitely bound for a destination she wasn’t happy about. A passenger in every sense, with no say in her destination and no control over the bumps along the way.

At the first jostle, she squeaked and hid her face. Obviously still raw from whatever had upset her previously, she made an effort to hold it together, biting her lip. I thought a smile or a goofy face might cheer her up, but she was as unamused by me as she was by the train. She found a seat, which appeared to momentarily assuage her feelings for a moment, before another jostle nearly sent her flying. And that was the end; this little girl had had enough of being shaken against her will, tossed into things unpredictable and frightening. She threw herself down, sobbing into her mother’s lap. It broke my heart. She couldn’t take it, being out of control, shaken on this scary train. When would it stop? When would it stop being scary?

She calmed down soon enough. She nearly broke again when the train came to another erratic start and stop, but she bit her lip again. Begrudgingly, she got used to being jostled. Finally, she figured out how to brace herself for the next one before it happened. But it never came, because we’d arrived at her stop. Holding her mother’s hand, she got off, shaken but prepared for any future quakes that came her way. I hoped the train was the worst part of her day.

The first jolt life shakes you up with is powerful and surprising. But it’s that second one, the one that makes you realize that this is life – that’s the one that’s scary. You realize it’s unpredictable, inescapable, and never ending. But what’s even more surprising than life’s tremors is how fast you get used to them. How much better you get at dealing with them. And in turn, life gets nicer and stops shaking you, if not just for a few moments.

At least, that’s how the rest of my commute went. I can only hope for the same on the ride home…