A Woman Spit on Me Today

Completely unprovoked and unassuming, an elderly woman walked up to where I was sitting on the R train this morning and spit on me.  It was more of a spray than a glob, which took me a while to process (Did she just spit on me? How can spit be sprayed? What just happened?), but yes, it was almost as shocking as if a random stranger had come and kissed me on the cheek.  I would have preferred the kiss, obviously, but I imagine both to be equally disorienting.

I had just hopped onto the train and settled in my seat when this happened.  This is why I think the “attack” was unprovoked.  There was hardly any time to offend her (although perhaps my scent was offensive – Tina wouldn’t have let me out of the house if this was the case, though).

Anyhow, once I got over the sheer randomness of this encounter (there were only about 15-20 people in the train), I said to the woman, “Excuse me, you just spit on me.”

That’s when the curse words started to fly.

“What’d you say, !@#($*&?!  You better stop talking to me &($*#@*.  Mother%$&*^% I can still hear you breathing!”

Uh, what?  You spit on me, remember?


At this point, everyone was looking, staring, wondering. I looked at the gentleman who was sitting right across from her and he shook his head and put his forefinger to his mouth, signaling for me not to say anything.

My stop was next.  The cursing continued.  I stared blankly at my accuser.

I listened intently to hear if there would be any racial epithets.  None.

“Okay, it’s not because I’m Korean,” I thought.

Grand Ave/Newtown.  My stop.

I simply swabbed away the spittle, took one last look at the angry woman, and walked out the sliding doors.

It was an unsettling experience for sure, and I immediately thought of Cate’s recent post about another unnerving subway ride.

“The world shouldn’t be this way,” I thought. In the words of Neil Plantinga Jr., “This is not the way it’s supposed to be.”

A rush of dis-ease hit me when she started cursing with the most piercing invectives – I as absolutely shocked that such venom was being directed at me.

What did I do?  What did I say?  I did nothing wrong.  I didn’t even react harshly when the deed was done.

I felt flustered and tense, angry and… scared.

Why was I scared?  The woman was 60-70 years old, I estimated.  She was frail and small, almost as if I could have broken her with a single loud yelp.  The tale of the tape was no contest.

And then it hit me.  This is exactly what I felt as a child growing up – hoping to mind my own business, disappearing in the realm of safe longings – yet having to live in the constant fear of blindsiding anger.

I felt like a child when she cursed at me.  Helpless, humiliated, and… scared.

The names and faces are different, but the feelings are the same.  Shellshocked by anger.  Wondering where it all went wrong.  What do I do with this rage, this stiffness, this fear that explodes inside me.

But this time, I wipe away the smear, bow to the one whose anger I bear, and walk away into a beautiful life.

Some things never change, but some things do.


11 responses to “A Woman Spit on Me Today

  1. “But this time, I wipe away the smear, bow to the one whose anger I bear, and walk away into a beautiful life.”

    that’s pretty amazing. I’m happy for you.

  2. I had a similar experience on the train, where an older man shouted some profanities at me about Chinese people needing to go back to their lands or something ridiculous like that. Thankfully others on the train told the guy to shut up and go away. I myself felt completely numb to say anything, so was glad that others spoke up for me. I personally think these individuals have mental issues that need to be checked out. Reminds me that we truly live in a fallen world.

  3. This is the stuff that happens while we wait… It’s hard to understand and so easy to understand all at the same time.

  4. Years ago I was walking along in Wash Sq Park with a friend, and we were laughing. An obviously homeless guy walks by and out of nowhere hauls off and slugs me in the stomach. Hard. Then walks off. I didn’t know Jesus then and couldn’t go to him for solace about the whole thing.

    Thanks for your post.

  5. Drew, I have a similar experience that my friends and I call the corndog incident. It was definitely more full of fear and lingering resentment, but I’ll have to blog it or tell it in person – cuz it’s really funny now, but it wasn’t then…

  6. Hey Drew,

    Thanks for sharing that story. I’ve had several of those same experiences on the train and on the sidewalk. Sometimes they even growl. I’ve always assumed it was the Jesus, the Light in me that offended them. There is certainly a Living Light in you Brother. I’m guessing you’ve already said a prayer for her.


  7. What a weird story. I can’t believe you didn’t go nuts. While I was pregnant, a woman on the train started elbowing me in the stomach (this was when I was visibly pregnant) and muttering profanities. The scary thing; she seemed completely lucid, but just incredibly angry. I said, ‘Excuse me?’ She elbowed me again. I was honestly scared for my unborn baby but there was no room to stand up on the train so I was locked down. When I got up to get off the train, this elderly black woman started yelling racial obscenities and I looked at her with such outrage, me and the rest of the train. She said, ‘You and your baby…..can go to HELL!’
    I couldn’t do what you amazingly did. I felt humiliated for my child, for myself and for all the other people who had to listen to that craziness. I was probably hormonal, but I can’t say for sure if I would take back the comment that she had no business insulting me or my baby.
    What a crazy world we live in….

  8. you being a pastor, perhaps there was something “spiritual” to it. why you out of all the people on the train?

    • Yeah, I’ve kinda been wondering the same thing. For the revelation alone, it was an experience worth going through, though. And judging from the comments, it’s not an experience out of the ordinary.

  9. I have so many NYC/subway stories as well. We should all get together and write a book.

    If I were you, I would have had to excercise some serious self control not to yell back at her. I realized that I feel this way because I don’t want to be stereotyped as an Asian woman – one who is meek, quiet, and passive.

    On the other hand, some battles are just not worth fighting, even when someone spits on you. Btw, I’d take spit over the kiss 😉

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