by: Addison Bell
There was a suicide on Valentine’s Day. I was desperately trying to get to Lincoln Park from downtown, but all of the Red Line stations were closed off with yellow tape, like a crime scene. People looked frustrated. I was frustrated. One man even yelled at CTA employee. All I thought about was that I wasn’t going to make it to my meeting. A few days later, my friend told me that someone jumped in front a Red Line train. Just like that. On Valentine’s Day.
While the body was being removed from the tracks, I was angry because I was running late. Someone died and I was worried about a meeting. I wondered, What if all she felt before she jumped was loneliness? Would things have been different if someone had stopped her on the street and simply said, Hi? Or did jumping make him relieved? Relieved to escape the sadness, to get away the isolation that so easily happens in this city.
Would Tyler Clementi not have jumped if he experienced more kindness instead of cruelty? Maybe. Or maybe not. When I moved to Chicago, I embraced the anonymity, of not knowing anyone. I could be what I wanted to be. I could start over. I could go by Addy instead of Addison. I could do anything I wanted to do, knowing that no one would care. And perhaps that’s exactly what I did—I’m not sure, yet. But now the anonymity bothers me.
I can no longer read books on the El, because I’m so focused on strangers. I wonder what people are listening to on their iPods, or why they are reading a particular book. Where are they going? Are they having a good day? Do they get sad sometimes? Do they eat dinner alone? Do they want to jump? And I sit there, thinking all of these things and never saying anything, because no one ever says anything to me. Is that an excuse? No, I think I have forgotten how to say hello to strangers.
I grew up in a town where everyone knows everyone, or at least people know of you. People are not afraid to make conversation with you. In fact, when you go to the grocery store, you expect someone you don’t even know to ask you how you are. I used to work at this convenience store where mostly everyone came to get scratch-offs and cigarettes. This was when I was in high school. I used to get so frustrated, because I would be behind the counter trying to do homework and almost every customer would want to talk to me. I don’t think it’s because the people in my town are genuinely interested in the lives of others, they are just being kind. My town is not perfect. And, honestly, you could not pay me to live there again. There are drugs and thefts and domestic violence. I was bullied in high school, and that same school still has a bullying problem. I’m still afraid to wear my “Legalize Gay” shirt when I’m home—not because I fear for my danger, but because sometimes people are not so kind.
I try not to think about the unkind, because the kind are more important. And sometimes I do miss it. I miss some of the people, the random acts of kindness that are actually not so random, strangers nodding hellos or stopping you and actually saying it. I miss it because I feel like this rarely happens in Chicago. My mom always told me to be nice to people, because you never know what they’re going through. Someone might have it bad at home. Another person may not even have a home. Someone may be thinking about jumping.
But perhaps the kindness of a stranger may make their day better, or show them that someone actually cares. And sometimes it’s frustrating when you hold a door open for someone and they don’t say thank you; or when you offer someone your seat on the El and they ignore you; or when you say “have a nice day” to the person making your coffee and they just shrug. But maybe they really do appreciate it and don’t know how to respond to a stranger being nice. I always feel uncomfortable when I see people being rude or mean to others.
I want to say, “Is that how you would want to be treated?” It’s so easy to go unnoticed, to live invisibly, in Chicago. I’ve gone days without talking to anyone. Sometimes I wonder about the people who may do this for months. I wonder if I’m sitting next to them on the El or pass them on the sidewalk. So maybe it’s time that everyone just started saying, “Hi. How are you?” Isn’t that what you would want?
Addison Bell is a senior at DePaul University where he is studying English Literature. He is the President of Oxfam DePaul and volunteers with Oxfam America, an organization dedicated to ending world hunger, poverty, and social injustice. Follow Addison on Twitter @boy_1904 and on Tumblr: colourmegreenwich.tumblr.com.