A woman caught me as I stumbled on the bus yesterday. I sat next to her and she said, “We’ve all got to be kind to each other now,” and something extraordinary happened between us.
I held her hands. If you don’t live in London you may not know how utterly bizarre it is to hold a strangers hand on a bus. It’s unusual to make eye contact! But this woman was radiating something powerful that compelled me to take hold of her hands.
“What did you vote?” she asked. I’m old enough to remember when it was considered incredibly rude to ask how a person voted, but I answered her anyway.
“I voted UKIP,” she said and turned to look me straight in the eye. All I could think of to say was, “Why did you do that?”
“My next door neighbours are on benefits and they work cash in hand,” she said, clearly wanting my response. It’s not the most insightful or professional thing I’ve ever said but what came out was,
“Don’t you think that’s wrong?” she asked, and I said that they probably had very good reasons for taking the terrible risk of being caught. “But they’re from Iran or Iraq or somewhere, and I’ve had cancer and I work. Don’t you care that they’re on benefits?”
I told her I couldn’t care less and asked her where she came from - English wasn’t her first language. She said her mother and father were from different nations and that she was from yet another. “My boys tell me the same,” she said, “They say that what my neighbours do is none of my business.” We looked at each other, holding hands very tightly, and then she got off the bus.
I was dumbfounded. The whole interaction had taken about 3 minutes.
It would be foolish to extrapolate an entire theory from that short connection, but isn’t there something about her anxiety, her desperate need to understand, that’s reflected in the national response to the election? She won’t be the only person to have voted against her own interests – a non-White, not-affluent woman who has had cancer – because her need to punish, to punch down, to harm people who are more vulnerable than she is, is greater than self preservation.
An accumulation of other stresses would have preceded this outpouring and perhaps the election was the final straw. I have no idea. But it seems to me that the single most important thing that this woman said, that goes beyond politics and ideology, beyond feeling gleeful or shocked or devastated at the outcome of this election, is the very first thing she did and the very first thing she said to me:
She caught me when I stumbled.
She said, “We’ve all got to be kind to each other now.”
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