The Woman on the Train

By Harvey Lieberman
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woman and son on trainI saw a most unusual woman today, traveling into Manhattan on the commuter railroad. I stood near her and her three children, two boys and a girl, all of us jostled about as the train rushed into the city. Where she boarded, I cannot be sure; judging from her style and the quality of her clothes, I’d guess she came from one of the more prosperous Long Island villages.

The kids were between three and eight years old. A dirty-blonde-haired girl, a bright cutie, was the youngest. The boys, outfitted in heavy winter coats and coordinated baseball caps, were sound in looks and personality. The mother was a pale, pleasant looking, slender woman about five feet six inches tall, with a not quite heart-shaped face. She had to be less than 40. Her black hair was cut to mid-neck, and her moderately thick eyebrows arched over gray-blue eyes. She was dressed for the sleety winter weather in a heavy gray wool coat, blue jeans, and dark brown hiking boats.

What made this woman stand out from other attractive women was her relationship with her children. She casually interacted with them in the most supportive manner during the more than half-hour they were standing. Affection was plentifully supplied through a series of well-distributed touches and ready smiles. She held a cup of coffee in her hands, and the kids, too, gripped beverages, along with the remnants of a light Pop Tart breakfast. Breakfasting in a railroad car was evidently part of the day’s adventure and was timed to keep the kids occupied on what could otherwise have been a boring trip.

Readers may be curious about the emotional inspiration for the sketch I have limned above. My purpose was to share a moment of the aesthetic pleasure in everyday life and to provide a reminder that life’s rewards can be found in its routines. The work of living had traced a mark on the woman’s face. Its public representation was the crease line that ran down her lower cheek and under her jaw, which showed promise of turning into the boundary of a jowl or extra chin in later years. The power of this marking can be measured by my response to it; for, in a culture that finds sign of wear repellent, I was attracted.

The stamp of age served as a natural frame for a found piece of performance art, one that might be called “Love Enhances Human Beauty.” Her essence radiated competent motherly love, and I was spiritually and emotionally moved by it. It was a delight to see someone who evidently lived life to love and be loved. This woman, this mother, and (judging from her wedding ring) this wife knew life’s wear and tear, and she appeared to accept it as part of a fair deal in return for the joy of living.

Harvey J. Lieberman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in Long Island , New York , who has devoted his professional career to assisting individuals and families in living more productively. His work as a psychotherapist, educator, and senior hospital administrator has been published broadly. He welcomes your comments about this article

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