Dear Rachel,

I’m in the middle of my third battle with cancer and hoping to be victorious as in previous battles. The treatment is difficult and debilitating. Finances dictateI don’t understand how people can be so heartless that I take public transportation. I live in New York City and the Metropolitan Transit Authority has a special button for people to wear if they require priority seating—if they’re sick, old, disabled, pregnant. (There’s a similar program in London.) The bright-yellow buttons says: “Please offer me a seat, courtesy counts.”

Many times people get up, but many times they don’t. The whole point of these buttons is to make it easier for people who don’t have a “visible” need to be able to get a seat quickly, without asking or explaining why. I don’t feel like saying, “I have cancer. Please let me sit down.” The buttons are prominent and easy to see; there’s no excuse for people not respecting the request.

I don’t understand how people can be so heartless. I have a very supportive family and group of friends who are helping me through this, sometimes giving me rides so I don’t have to use public transportation. I would be so much happier (and more comfortable) if people on the street (or subway) were kinder and more considerate.

Left Standing

Dear Rising to the Occasion,

First of all, I want to wish you a complete healing and good health. G‑d sends his best generals repeatedly into the battlefield. May you be victorious!

I also want to commend the cities of New York and London for implementing this system, and hope anyone reading this who has access to “the powers that be” in the transit systems of any metro area encourage them to adopt this system as well.

But with any system, there are glitches, especially where human error comes into play.

It takes a lot of courage to wear a button like that. It could be that other people on the train who aren’t giving upWe are often invisible to each other their seat to you also have an invisible disability, and for whatever reason prefer not to wear the button. It would be kind of you to judge at least some of them favorably. And even have more compassion for them since someone who feels awkward wearing a button may also feel awkward reaching out for the kind of help that you’re blessed with. The Torah says: “Judge every man favorably.” (Pirkei Avot 1:6)

It also, of course, says (Vayikra 19:32): “In the presence of an old person you shall rise.” One must show respect and give their seat to an older person, or by extension, anyone who is weak or fighting a battle that people can’t see.

That’s another point. We are often invisible to each other. We can look at people, but don’t usually see them. Our minds wander when we’re in transit, and it could be that people don’t actually notice the button or know what it means. They may not be trying to be obtuse, they’re just thinking of something else.

Then again, there are people who are selfish and self-absorbed. That’s the biggest disability, and while it may make you angry, they’re the people you should feel the most sorry for since they’re the only ones who can affect a cure.

Since remaining positive and grateful is fundamental to being healthy, I suggest you don’t spend too much time being aggravated at people. Instead, focus on all the times you do get a seat, and express your gratitude even more effusively than you would verbally by giving them a big smile and wishing them (at least in your heart) good health. Keep track how many times people do offer. Focus on the good in the world, and you’ll see good.

When someone doesn’t offer a seat, be practical. You have enough on your plate without addressing the ills of society. Just ask the youngest and healthiest-looking person sitting if you can sit down. Most people are just not paying attention and are happy to offer assistance if asked. I feel confident that most won’t say no. The city is a big, anonymous place, and sometimes we need reminders to love our neighbors.

May you live a long and healthy life!