From Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul

Escalator Angel

Live in such a way that those who know you but don’t know God will come to know God because they know you.


The crisp February morning chilled the crowd that waited to catch the MARTA, Atlanta’s public rail system. When the train arrived, I moved with the others toward vacant seats. Mechanical sounds punctuated the trip: the humming of electric motors and the loud bell before the doors slid shut.

As we settled into our parallel journeys, I looked around. I work at home, and consequently don’t often take public transit at rush hour. This morning I was on my way into the city for a seminar. The size and diversity of the crowd on the train surprised me. In our single car, there were African-Americans, European-Americans and Asians—a generous representation of world society.

But there was no interaction. Business men and women had their briefcases open, poring over papers filled with charts and columns. Casually dressed students studied books. One young man had on headphones and swayed in a slow dance to his private music. I’m a fiction man, myself. I travel with a novel handy.

But today I didn’t open it. I was too busy studying those around me; something felt strange.

I didn’t realize what it was until I’d disembarked at Five Points, the connecting point for the east and west trains. In this cavernous space, I joined perhaps a thousand commuters waiting for their trains.

Here I realized what was so eerie: the total silence. One thousand people, packed cheek to jowl, looking straight ahead, pretending the others didn’t exist. And I, a 50-year-old white man wearing a blue suit and glasses, was one of them. The only sound two stories under Atlanta’s streets was the hum of the escalators.

And then came a woman’s voice. “Good morning!”

The greeting echoed through the station. A thousand heads snapped up in unison, scanning the space. The voice had come from a woman riding the descending escalator on the far side of the platform. “How y’all this morning?”

She practically sang her words, punctuating her speech with long vowel extensions. People began to turn toward her.

The petite African-American woman reached the bottom of the escalator and walked purposefully to the edge of the throng. She grabbed a surprised businessman’s hand, shook it and looked him in the eye. “Good morning! How ya doing this morning?”

The man looked at the small woman who had him in her grip. He broke into a smile. “Fine, thank you.”

Her clothes were a little ragged, but her purposeful smile overcame her stature and appearance as she moved through the crowd, shouting greetings, shaking hands and laughing freely. Finally, she looked across the tracks at the crowd on my side of the platform. “How ya’ll folks over there this morning?

“Just fine!” I shouted back. Others answered with me. We surprised each other so much that we broke out laughing.

“That’s good,” she said. She paused and looked around. Now everyone was listening. “God sent me here to cheer you up this morning. And that’s the God of the Jew, the Christian, the Muslim and any other religions ya’ll brought or didn’t bring along.”

From where I stood, I could see a twinkle in her eye. Amazingly, the train station came alive with good-natured conversation. As we chatted with each other, few noticed the slight woman quietly ascend the up escalator.

When the northbound train arrived, I squeezed into a car already stuffed with riders. I didn’t get much past the door and grabbed a chrome pole that already had hands of every racial color gripping it. My face looked straight into that of an African-American woman about my age. She wore a light yellow business suit. I sensed she didn’t like the press of people around us.

Before I could stop myself, I said, “Good morning.”

“What?” She seemed surprised.

“Good morning. How are you doing?” A few people watched us.

A smile overtook her. “Fine,” she chuckled. “You know, nobody’s asked me that this morning. Really, nobody ever says hello.”

I grinned and told her about the unexpected visitor back at Five Points, wondering aloud if she might have been an angel. “Isn’t that what angels do? They’re messengers. That woman demonstrated the goodness of simply greeting each other, sharing our humanity, instead of guarding it.”

Others around the pole joined the discussion, and smiles spread through the car.

The woman across from me, now grinning, said, “If it weren’t so crowded in here, I’d give you a good hug. You’ve made my morning.”

When the train arrived at my stop, I moved toward the door. “I hope you have a good day!” I called back to my fellow traveler.

“I will, and thank you.”

As I looked back into the car, I saw lots of smiles. People were chatting. Someone else touched my shoulder and waved good-bye. I felt happy and alive.

Since then, I’ve often wondered who that woman was. She didn’t have wings; she ascended and descended an escalator and she spoke in a Southern drawl. But silent people who were temporarily buried two stories below Atlanta began to talk and laugh. A chilly February day felt warmer, and a shy guy like me suddenly hasn’t been able to keep himself from greeting and talking with strangers on subway trains, elevators and airplanes. But isn’t that what a more famous angelic message proclaimed: “Good will to all”?

In other words, good cheer is contagious. Pass it on.

Richard Stanford

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