Humanity on the Tube – a BBC Pause for Thought

Here’s the text for the 27 Feburary 2023 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Breakfast Show with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2. Listen here.


I sat down on the Tube and as it left the station, I caught a glimpse in the window of my ever-expanding forehead marked with a smudge of dirt. It was Ash Wednesday, when some Christians ponder what we humans are made of. And in case we’ve forgotten, we go to church to receive a reminder: a cross of glorious mud traced right onto our faces.

At the next station on my Tube journey, the doors opened and a young Muslim guy got on. He sat in the seat just to the left of me and opened his Quran, the holy book of Islam. He held it on his lap and prayed quietly, whispering verses from the scriptures. He was almost singing them. It was beautiful.

And then, at the next station, the doors opened and – I promise I’m not making this up, y’all – a young Jewish guy got on, dressed in a long suit and traditional black hat. He sat just to the right of me, and he leaned forward, he held his face in his hands, his sidelocks tassling over his fingers.

The three of us sat there next to each other, and I felt like I was part of the beginning of a joke – “So, a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew get onto a train….”

But more than a joke, I felt like I was the recipient of a blessing – one of those rare times in life when you get the luck or the grace of being in the right place at the right time. You did nothing to ask for it or plan it – it just happens. And when it happened to me that Ash Wednesday night, I felt a deep joy – a comfort, actually – that I get to be part of this beautiful crowd called humanity.

The blessing wasn’t just the guys to my left and right: the whole packed-out train felt like a gift – people on their phones, kids twirling on the poles, folks of different spiritualities, atheists and agnostics, too. People different in every way, but all of us held together.

The philosopher Sartre said: Hell is other people. And don’t get me wrong: I can go there, too. When relationships are twisted, when politics are warped, when someone cuts me off in traffic. But that rush-hour on the Tube, other people seemed like Heaven. All of us connected, whether we were conscious of it or not, by the glorious, unearned gift of being human.

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