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Chivalry Is Dead

Last week I was traveling with my gigantic suitcase, because my theory on packing is if it fits into my suitcase, I can bring it with me.  I was wrestling with it on stairs, both because it is too large for me to carry easily and because I was also trying to manage my purse and a laptop bag.

As I struggled down a flight of stairs, half wondering if I should just let the suitcase fly down the stairs ahead of me because the way things were shaping up I was going to be knocked down with it, a large group of teenaged boys came running up the stairs.  They ran around me, a few of them making obnoxious comments like "big suitcase you have."  Yet, they didn't stop.

I stood there disheartened.  What would their parents think if they could see them right now, I wondered.  I thought about my own sons at home.  Would they be the ones running up the stairs, pushing by a person who could use their help?  Would they be laughing? I don't think that they would.  I'd like to think that my sons have enough empathy that they would think of someone else.  But would the lure of their friends running with them change all that?

I watched them run by, taking the stairs two at a time, and felt sad.   Not because I had to carry my suitcase myself, but because it was indicative of our society as a whole.

*****

Earlier in the week a friend had told me that even in her obviously very pregnant state, people on the subway ignore her.  Men in their business suits sit with their legs spread, holding their newspapers, not caring.  The man who gets up is the exception to the rule. 

"You know who does get up," she had told me, "middle aged women."

"Chivalry is dead, isn't it?"  I had asked, rhetorically.

"Oh yeah. And then it was dragged through the streets and left in a bloody heap in the gutter."

"If the Titanic was sinking today you just know men would be shoving women and children out of the way." I laughed. 

It was one of those conversations that you just laugh about because the alternative is too depressing.  And it isn't just about men, it is about everyone.  Somehow as a society we have become so hardened that anyone who does something the slightest bit nice for someone else is immediately called a hero.  You see it every day on the news or read it in a newspaper.  We have an expectation that it is every man, or woman, for himself.


****

The second to last boy running up the stairs looked away from his friend.  "Do you need some help with that?"  He reached out and grabbed my suitcase, easily carrying it down the rest of the flight for me.

I thanked him effusively.  His friends were all laughing at him from the top of the stairs.  He sort of laughed it off, like it was no big deal, except that it was.  As he set my suitcase down his eyes caught mine, "No, I mean it.  Thank you." 

He smiled sheepishly and then ran up the stairs and punched one of his friends in the arm.  They all continued on their merry way being loud and boisterous.

I wanted to say more.  I wanted to tell him how I knew his mother would be proud.  I wanted to tell him that I have six sons and that I hope they would be like him.  I wanted to congratulate him for stepping away from his peer group at an age where friends are everything.  I wanted to tell him not to change, but to be the one who changes others.  I wanted to tell him that it made me sad that he was the exception.  

I wanted to tell him the he gave me a tiny glimmer of hope for the future.

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