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October 22, 2005
We were ready to board the train, suitcases and briefcases in hand. The conductor was ready, too, standing with one hand on the metal grip bar and the other ready to lend to anyone who seemed to need steadying.

The young woman in front of me was heavy-laden -- two suitcases and a shopping bag and a purse. Perhaps the step was slick, or maybe she just lost her balance because the gap between the train and the platform was too wide to cross with all those bags --- down she went, into the gap, one leg dangling in the gap, one bag in the train, one behind her, her shopping bag flung some distance away. A collective gasp went up from the rest of us, and then we all converged on her and helped her up.

She was all right: a little bruised on her hands and wrists from trying to break her own fall, a few little scrapes. Everyone handed her carefully into the train, rounded up her bags, got on the train ourselves with more than the usual care.

"Wash your hands carefully with soap," I said, "and rinse them well." She nodded, a bit teary now that it was over. "It was shocking, wasn't it?"

She nodded again, unable to speak. The conductor came down the aisle with his first aid kit, and showed her to the restroom. I followed. "Do you know when your last tetanus shot was?" I asked, and she said she thought it had been rather recent. "Check with your doctor when you get home. You did break the skin."

She showed me her hand, already swelling a bit, and the bruises already forming on several fingers.

"I'm so sorry this happened," I said, and she gave a shaky nod, tears still standing in her eyes. She was all right, she said, and I went back to my seat.

I'm glad it wasn't the subway instead. I'm glad she didn't fall all the way down to the train tracks below. I'm glad the conductor was there. I'm glad she didn't break any bones. I'm glad it wasn't worse.

I kept my happy thoughts to myself, though, except for the THANK GOD! one about the subway, which just slipped out as soon as I saw her leg dangling in the gap. People with injuries don't need to hear about how much worse it could have been right then and there. They need recognition of their pain and fear, tender quiet acknowledgment of their shock, maybe some instructions about first steps from someone whose head is clearer. They need someone to be hopeful, of course, but also sorry it happened, not someone who can't just let them be shaken and hurt for a little while.

God is near to injury. Quiet and near. Quiet partnering beats a torrent of words any day, however well-meaning all those words may be.

Don't know what to say to the sick or the injured? Good -- you're on the right track. You don't really need to say much of anything at all.
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