I was in a rush, unfamiliar with the Toronto subway station I was just about to enter. I dropped a token into the box, then had a second thought and leaned toward the grille, “Is there a washroom in this station?” I asked. “It’s kind of urgent.”
The middle aged ticket collector answered, “No there isn’t. I’m afraid you’ll have to go all the way to Yonge and Bloor. That’s the closest one.”
I pushed through the turnstile but she called me back. “Hey, Mister. There’s a Tim Horton’s just outside here and around the corner to your left. Why don’t you go on over there? I know you’ve paid and I’ll remember you when you come back.”
I thanked her and made a quick exit. A few minutes later I was in a bathroom, full of gratitude for the execution of a simple bodily function. And gratitude for her. It would have been easier for her to sit there half asleep, to answer my question and just direct me down the line. That was all her job required. But she had been sharper than that. Her thoughtful suggestion was a human response to another human’s discomfort.
She had gone out of her way, and I wanted her to know I had noticed. We busy city folk don’t appreciate our blessings often enough, and too rarely express it to others.
When I returned to the turnstile she nodded and waved me through. I paused before passing, and again leaned in toward the grille. She was sitting up on one of those high leather stools, not expecting me to stop. Her smile froze when she saw that I was about to say something and I realized in an instant that the pause of a patron normally meant that she was going to hear trouble. She sat back, eyes wary, waiting for a complaint.
“I just want you to know how much I appreciate your thoughtfulness,” I said. “It’s a pleasure to see someone who brings quality to their job. The public isn’t known for expressing gratitude, so I don’t imagine you often have a chance to hear praise, but you deserve it today. You cared enough to respond creatively. You’re not just on automatic pilot.”
“No, I don’t often hear compliments,” she said. She was smiling warmly, and seemed to sit more relaxed in her chair. “Thank you for that. You’ve made my day.”
“You made mine,” I replied, and walked on through the turnstile.
There was a line-up building behind me. I hoped she wasn’t going to get grief from any impatient transit riders. But it wouldn’t have mattered.
Today she had a little extra insulation against insensitivity.
We both did.