The following post was contributed by Shoshana Yehudah, Director of Emergency Perparedness for Touro College.
My job as Director of Emergency Preparedness has made me sensitive to being prepared for emergency situations of any kind. I carry a hand sanitizer at all times, a mini package of paper towels, a light stick for blackouts, a smoke hood for train fires, and even heated insoles for those really cold days. I’m like Felix the Cat with a bag of magic tricks. My family, friends and colleagues all tease me about how serious I am about preparedness; my boss calls me Typhoid Mary because I’m always talking about the latest epidemic. Okay, so maybe I am a little neurotic about the whole thing, but I see it as being practical and don’t give a flying fig what others think about it. Which makes this story so out of character for me.
I was riding the B train one morning to work and didn’t realize there were no lights in the car I was sitting. A good portion of the ride takes place outside, so while I noticed there wasn’t a lot of light in the car, I didn’t realize how dark it was until we got into the tunnel. I looked around and it was pitch black; you couldn’t see the faces of the people in front of you. I waited to hear someone complain—you know how New Yorkers are—but there wasn’t a sound. I felt very uncomfortable. Sitting in the dark for several minutes at a time on a New York City subway is not a safe way to travel. I’ve seen enough YouTube videos to know that all kinds of incidents happen on the trains with the lights on. I could only imagine how much trouble we could have in the dark.
The light stick I carry was a little much for this situation. Besides, it holds six hours of light and I didn’t want to waste it on a one hour trip into the City. I turned on my cell phone, but all I could see was the screen in front of me. I wanted to be able to see the face of the criminal who could be lurking, waiting for his opportunity to strike in the dark. This teeny cell phone light was not going to cut it. But no one else seemed bothered. There were only a couple of cell phones in use, and those just cast an eery glow on the faces of the people using them. They didn’t provide any real illumination. How would I see the perpetrator of a crime, or danger as it approached?! Like I said, I get teased a lot because I take these things so seriously.
I suddenly remembered an app that my husband harassed me into getting. It was a flashlight app, and when he first mentioned it to me, I told him it was silly. Why on earth would I need an additional light when I have a cell phone? The idea didn’t sound so silly as I sat in the dark, so I opened the app. I figured I would be able to see a few faces around me. The light flooded the car and I could see more than halfway down. I could also see all the shocked faces of the other passengers as all heads turned to look at me. Now that was uncomfortable. I didn’t mean to become the center of attention, I just wanted to see my surroundings. However, all of those eyes staring at me sort of freaked me out. It only took a few seconds for me to shut off the app.
I was surprised at myself. Since when did I care what others thought about my preparedness? Just because they were happy to sit in the dark, didn’t mean I had to. Just because they couldn’t see the potential danger didn’t make me crazy; it made me aware. I shouldn’t feel embarassed for being aware. I turned on the app expecting to be the center of attention again, but it wasn’t so bad. Only a couple of people glanced my way. I sat back, relaxed and got comfortable. After 10 minutes the woman next to me said, “I’m glad I sat next to you when I got on. I would hate to spend the next hour in the dark on the train.” I smiled and said, “you can’t be too careful these days”. There were nods from several other passengers around me.
I learned a valuable lesson. We imagine all sorts of things when it comes to what other people are thinking and feeling. The truth is, we have no way of knowing until we forge ahead or ask. Maybe people stared because they were surprised; maybe they were wishing they thought to have such an app, or maybe they were just glad someone else did something about the situation. Whatever their reasons, I was reminded we should always do what we think is right and reasonable, even if others think we are a little neurotic about it. So the next time you hear that New York City has an emergency, think of me sitting somewhere lovingly stroking my emergency kit. I’ve decided to be prepared and a little neurotic.