Me, My Wife, And Pushing People Into Trains

It was a few years ago. In Chicago. My wife and I were engaged. Nothing to do but kill time and stress over the marriage planning.

I remember we were sitting outside somewhere. We were having those deep talks that people that are dating have all the time, and married people wish they had more.

We were talking about how, really, you could change anything in your life in a second and how freaking crazy that was.

And then I remembered a thought I had on this subject.  A thought I had never shared.  But now that I was hanging out with the person I was going to be with for the rest of my life, I thought, hell, I might as well.

So I told her, “Sometimes, when I’m standing at an L train, I think how, if I wanted to, I could push someone into the tracks, kill them, and my whole life would be different. Like, I’d be in jail for the rest of my life. I always thought that was so crazy.”

And, see, it was a scary moment, because it’s not every day you share the fact that you think about what it might be like to push someone into a train, but I had this weird faith that maybe she would understand the idea wasn’t about the pushing but about how easy it would be to change everything in our lives in a moment.

So when her eyes lit up and she said, “Wow, I think about that sometimes too!” I was pretty shocked.

Was it possible I wasn’t the only one with such weird thoughts? Was it possible other people think these thoughts as well? I wasn’t ready to fully believe it.

But then we had this whole conversation about how crazy it would be to go to jail, how easy it would be, how life is so fragile, so delicate.

And I realized I was not alone in my crazy thoughts. Maybe other people think like me but they’re too afraid to share their wacky musings.

And, so, a few weeks later, when Rivka and I were eating at a Shabbos table at my Rabbi’s house in Chicago, a table of at least 15 people from the community, I had the genius idea to share this thought with the table.

See, I was trying to share a Dvar Torah, an uplifting thought for the week, and I thought, what better way than to share the fact that we can change our lives in a moment.

I started speaking and brought up some ideas from the Rebbe, some quotes from the parsha, and then I looked around at the table and I asked the question I knew would get people thinking and discussing.

With my future wife by my side and people from around the community listening intently, I asked them all, “So, anyway, how many of you have had a random thought about pushing a person into a train and how that would change your life in a second, just like that?”

I was sure, after my moment with my wife that at least some people’s eyes would light up the way hers did. That they would come alive and breath deep sighs of relief and say, “Oh yes, Elad, we’ve thought about that, let’s talk about it! It’s crazy, right? Wow, yes, I knew it, we were all repressing our thoughts and not sharing them, but now let’s talk about this deep idea in the context you’re describing.”

I’ll be honest with you. They didn’t say any of that. Actually, full disclousure, they didn’t say anything.

Instead they stared. Looked at me and my wife like we were insane. Somewhere in the distance, crickets chirped.

And now it was just me and Rivka, alone.

Finally, someone spoke up, breaking the silence, as if that big pause didn’t exist and she said, “Nope, never thought that.”

And then I saw everybody’s eyes light up the way Rivka’s lit up, the way I was hoping they would with me.

Instead they were nodding with this lady and shaking their heads at me all at the same time.

I let out a cough and tried to salvage what I could of a dvar Torah that clearly led the table to believe that I was a mass murderer, trying to divert the conversation back to my main point (I swear, there was a point!) that life can change in a split second.

I remember looking at my future wife then and realizing something. I remember that that was the first time in my life that I realized people can be both different and similar.

I guess I lived most of my life believing that I was either completely alone, afraid to share my deepest thoughts, or that I was just the same as everyone else. That the moment my thoughts were shared by another, well, that was proof that we are all one, that we are all the same and uniform.

I don’t know, I guess sometimes you hear people saying, “Hey, we’re all the same!  All our differences are just skin deep.”  And then you have those who want to separate everyone into camps and differences and arguments.

That was the day when it became clear to me that life isn’t so simple. Not so black and white. That some of us just have crazy thoughts, and others have different crazy thoughts and some people just have thoughts.  Some of us are different, some of us are similar.

And maybe that’s okay.

  • I guess I understand this. I guess I do want to hear people saying, “Yes, we accept you even though you are not exactly like us. You are good enough to be Jewish, even though your husband is not, we respect you, welcome you, love you, and are so happy for you that you converted because you wanted so much to be Jewish. In some circles, my conversion is looked upon as crazy and unacceptable. Maybe I have to accept that it is okay, and stay away from those who choose to deny me my Judaism.

  • Good post, as usual. I do think though, that if you would’ve asked those same people sitting around the table *personally* (as opposed to publicly) if they ever shared your thought, chances are some of them would agree that they did… Just a thought.

    And yes, I think about that some times… :). It’s pretty scary as well as empowering.

    • LOL, maybe some… but I think most were genuinely dumbfounded.

  • BirdieWaters

    You say the simplest and truest things in the most interesting way. Thank you.

    I think there are deep thinkers and then there are those who don’t feel the desire or need to think that deeply. Neither is better or worse. As you said, both are “okay”. I’m a deep thinker, a tunneler if-you-will, always looking at something almost as a fractal with seemingly never ending depths to explore. I always want to understand deeply. I’ve always had thoughts of a similar “weird” nature, though only one involved this particular brand of weird : ) Every so often “what ifs” or random, out of the ordinary thoughts strike me and I think…well it’s a good thing no one can read my mind lol

    Our daughter, who’s also a deep thinker and isn’t afraid to say anything, once said “when I’m laying in bed before I go to sleep, I think the WEIRDEST thoughts!”. I get her! I’m also glad I can’t read all her thoughts, being she’s a teenager lol I haven’t shared any of mine with my spouse the way you did…not out of fear, but because my spouse doesn’t enjoy deep thinking or discussions about why things are this way or that way etc.. and I realize it wouldn’t add anything at all to our connection.

    All my life I wanted children and to marry. I didn’t grow up in a religious home and all my friends talked about going away to college and having careers. I was alone in my desire for a family. For no apparent reason, we didn’t get pregnant for five long years. It was heart wrenching (though I’m terribly thankful now!). Finally when our son was born, I was head over heals in love and would have given my life ten times over for him if need be, but one day when he was about a month old, I laid him down on a blanket on the floor and his tiny, vulnerable stature struck me on some deep level as I stood there looking down at him. He was a life! A life that was utterly dependent on me. Completely trusting and in my hands.

    The thought came to me that it would take almost no physical effort to take his life (though that wasn’t my desire or intention in any way). I had read of parents doing such things, which may have been in my mind, wondering how on earth they could ever do such a thing. That was the furthest thing from my mind of course, but it came to me, I think, because I was so struck by the immense nature of his powerful, eternal essence in this entirely fragile, vulnerable body. It was such a strange paradox. It was powerful and odd to me how little effort would be required to destroy something that amazing. I’ve heard it said that it takes no power to destroy, but great power to create.

    These thoughts are only detrimental if our intent is to actually do these things so they are really “okay”. Perhaps if more people talked about these things, we’d all find we’re far more integrated than we realize. What I believe deep thinkers are doing is investigating…discovering the deeper things in life. I find myself doing this in my study, in my photography and art as well. I seem to find what other people never pay attention to, to be the most interesting such as,what’s going on beyond our atmosphere, quantum physics and the way bark on a tree or moss looks at very close range.

    So, that was one of my weirdest thoughts that I’ve never shared before. It wasn’t about how I could change my own life instant, but how I could potentially and easily change another’s despite their eternal, completely beautiful and miraculous nature. Life is fragile and strong, full of love and fear, peace and war. Perhaps it’s not about “this OR that”, but “this AND that”. Each a valid choice in this experience. What a fantastic privilege and responsibility to expand in love and create something amazing, all the while holding in our hands the opportunity to do the opposite.

    • WOW. Thank you so much for those thoughts. I agree with a lot of it and was particularly struck with the end. The point is that we notice these extremely negative possibilities because we are so aware of the positive. The extreme negative exists because there is just as much potential for extreme good.

      I always love when you share your thoughts here. Great to hear from you as always.

    • Rebecca K.

      BirdieWaters, you just shared something so private. I’m blown away by your bravery.

      I’ve had moments like these in the past (but worse) and before I realized that the idea were okay and didn’t mean I was bad or that I had to act on them, I was a bit of a mess. Such guilt. When I was finally told that they were part of (thankfully mild) OCD, I could see that my thoughts weren’t me, at least not the whole me, and just kinda laugh at them, like Elad and wife.

      • BirdieWaters

        Hello Rebecca & thanks for the kind complement on bravery, though I’m not sure I’d call it brave, as I’m disclosing my thoughts amongst people I’ll never meet (as opposed to a live Dvar Torah) while using a pseudonym lol I would say you are the brave for determining to bring yourself up from guilt you knew wasn’t “yours” and for seeking answers or doing research which brought you to the level of clarity you now have. Thank you for that!

  • Funny, I always think about someone accidentally knocking a child into the train and me having to decide if I should jump down there and get them or scream for someone else (who doesn’t have children of their own) to come get them. Terrifying! And then I start having a mild panic attack and I have to force myself to think of something else. (Every. single. time.) So there ya go. (pls don’t push, b/c I don’t wanna have to save!)

    That said, I think you did manage to prove that everything can change by one choice! You asked this question and changed an interesting D’var Torah into crickets chirping. Also realized that not everyone has to be the same. Not so shabby a point after all.

    • I think it’s interesting that so many people have responded here and on Facebook saying they have similar thoughts, if not exactly the same. There must be something about standing a freaking foot away from a huge piece of metal hurtling at you with no separation between you and it that makes people think about death. Huh.

      And I love your last point. That’s pretty hilarious, and I guess completely true. BH!

  • Karen Tunkel

    My thought is always the opposite. I stand there, waiting for the train and see the dreaded “third rail” and I do think about the fragility of life, but it’s always my own mortality that springs to mind. I see how close the distance is between being safe there on the platform and being in mortal danger on the tracks and how easily I could slip or be pushed and how little of a fall it could take.

    To me, it reminds me that there is always a tenuous balance between avoiding the danger of the edge of the platform and being too afraid of falling to get close enough to it to reach the train. If I go through life too concerned about the dangers around me, I may miss opportunities that were right there, so close! However, if I’m not careful, it’s not far to fall from a place of complete safety into dangerous territory.

    I long ago accepted that there is a small percentage of people with whom I can ever fully be myself. In most cases, it is better to keep a lot of my thoughts to myself and save them for later conversations. Those times, though, when I find one of those people as you did when you found your wife, when I see their eyes light up and when it feels like we are speaking on the same frequencies, completely understanding each other…those times are when I feel like what is inside me is good and worthy and whole. I treasure those conversations, but I know not to expect them with just anyone or at all times.

    • “I long ago accepted that there is a small percentage of people with whom I can ever fully be myself. In most cases, it is better to keep a lot of my thoughts to myself and save them for later conversations. Those times, though, when I find one of those people as you did when you found your wife, when I see their eyes light up and when it feels like we are speaking on the same frequencies, completely understanding each other…those times are when I feel like what is inside me is good and worthy and whole. I treasure those conversations, but I know not to expect them with just anyone or at all times.”

      Beautiful and wise. Thank you for that 🙂

  • Zecharya

    I wouldnt get too worked up about the Chicago crowd – its a cold place and “windy city” but not talking about the weather… Even the Friedeker Rebbe after visiting said it was cold, and didnt put a lot of effort into expanding Lubavitch programming there.

    I think much of the Tanya and chassidus in general is based on the fact that each and every one of us has detrimental, deranged, and disappointing thoughts flying through our heads. Pushing someone into a train, or even jumping in ourselves, saying something awful in the middle of minyan, grabbing a handful of the pushke dollars…. we all go through these things, but it takes our yetzer tov and constant mesirus nefesh and iskafya, to ignore and push out these negative influences. Thank G-D we have the tanya!! It does take courage to admit this, and even more to work on it and overcome, so thanks again Elad.

  • Most people are terrified of confronting both their own mortality and the fact that the life which they know and are comfortable and familiar with can change in an instant forever even without homicidal behavior or bad intent on their own part. Examples include: freak accidents, acts of god, reckless or drunk drivers and terrorist attacks. And we all know stories involving the above examples and more but most people would like to believe it cant happen to me.

  • Renata Magurdumov

    It means she is your soulmate! 🙂