12.02.2010 - 21.02.2010
It was a day we all looked forward to for months. We were in France for three days. We made a deal with our daughters. If they were good sports about the museums we wanted them to experience I would treat them to a day at Disneyland Paris. My wife would spend the day on her own shopping and strolling in the City of Light.
My wife kindly asked if I was sure I could manage the whole day without her help. I assured her I had everything under control. She reminded me to keep the kids close to me at all times.
We left our apartment in the shadow of Notre Dame bright and early and set out for the Gare de Lyon train station. We stocked up on water and grabbed decadent pastries for the one hour train ride. Everything was going smoothly and according to plan, too smoothly.
The Paris transit system is amazing. It is fast, clean, safe and efficient. We descended underneath the bustling station and headed for our platform. When we turned the corner a train was already there challenging us to climb aboard. I quickly double checked to make sure the train was headed for Marne la Vallee-Chessy. It was the right train and I told the kids to hurry up. We were excited.
I messed up. I violated my own rule. When we travel, I remind everyone that we all stick together and don't make impulsive moves. In my hasty desire to make good time I let the group get too spread out. Instead of just waiting I made a push to make the train.
My middle daughter, then 10 years old, was at the front of our pack. With a nod of my consent she jumped on board with us a good few paces behind. As she was mid-stride a loud tone sounded. To a parent with one child on the train and two children still moving down the platform this was an alarm of impending doom.
I knew that within an instant the train doors would close and my precious little girl would be alone on a rapidly moving train heading out of Paris. She was 3,000 miles from home. She did not speak a single word of French and she had no way to explain to anyone where she came from and where she was going. All she knew was we were headed to Disneyland.
For someone who goes to great lengths to be prepared, sheer dread set in. How could I let this happen? I couldn't jump on the train and leave my 8-year-old and 12-year-old behind. I felt helpless.
The scene was playing itself in slow motion. I could see the utter confusion in my daughter's eyes. I imagine that her expression was a mirror reflection of mine.
When all seemed lost an amazing thing happened. A passenger with incredible instinct recognized exactly what was happening and what needed to be done. In retrospect, I suppose he must have known what was going to happen even before it occurred.
From the platform, I watched this person burst from his seat on the train. He didn't lunge for my daughter, which is what my instincts were telling me. Instead he stretched his arms out towards the doors of the train. He had the backs of his hands together, palms outward. As the doors closed, only his fingers protruded through. A second stranger now joined to help. He wedged his hands between the narrow gap in the doors. I could see tears in my daughter's eyes as the two began to pry open the doors.
Once the doors reached a certain point they jerked fully open. My daughter leaped from the train and grabbed on to me.
There I stood, face to face with two strangers who acted swiftly, decisively, and selflessly. Why did they do it? Because we needed help.
Just as quickly as before the tone sounded again and the doors closed. As the train began to pull away I looked through the windows and uttered the words "thank you, merci, merci". The men nodded. One smiled. Then they were gone.
I'll never have the opportunity to personally thank those two men. Their quick actions averted a crisis. As for us, we regrouped, we talked about what happened and the lessons we learned, we caught the next train, and we put it behind us. We spent a glorious day in Disneyland.
In a world where we try to control everything, sometimes we need help. Similarly, we need to realize that people all around us need help. Sometimes it's just little things. Little actions can make a big difference. We were reminded of that one morning deep underground the streets of Paris.