On Sunday, Sept. 27, my boyfriend Kieran and I got on an 8:24PM Metro North train back to Fordham’s campus after a day in Manhattan. He had a splitting headache and was resting his head on my backpack, which was on my lap. I smiled at two uniformed members of the FDNY as they walked on and sat across from us. I have always felt safer knowing that there are uniformed personnel present. But these two firemen were quite obviously drunk, and were not even settled into their seats before they began to harass us, saying, “Hey smiley, why don’t you come sit on my lap?” and “You’re not a real man, she should be sitting on your lap. . .I’ll show you what a real man is.” I was shocked into silence. How could I respond to such rude comments, especially coming from the mouths of men who are supposed to command respect and authority? I looked away, squeezed Kieran’s hand a little tighter and tuned out their voices as best I could.
As their taunts blended into the humdrum of the moving train, another voice began to contribute to the noise. It was a voice I thought I had heard before, cheerfully discussing baseball with his across-the-aisle seatmates. Lo and behold, Father McShane was sitting in the seat behind us. In an instant, my anguish dissipated and was replaced with comfort and a slight giddiness – I have seen Father McShane speak at Fordham events, but never had the chance to talk with him one-on-one before. His conversation partners were also Fordham students, and we all had a grand time speaking with Father McShane until the train pulled up at the Fordham Road Station.
When I reflect on this unusual train ride, two important lessons come to mind: primarily, that not all servicemen fulfill the ideal image we are taught to have of them. There is nothing wrong with two grown men getting drinks after work, nor does their behavior reflect the entirety of the FDNY. But I expect uniformed persons to act nobly, at the very least, out of respect for the uniform and all that it symbolizes. What I find most disappointing about the behavior of these two firemen was the biases that were revealed through their comments. They exposed a view of gender roles that are still (unfortunately) widely held today: that men must always put up a strong face in public and that women should be male-dependent instruments of pleasure.
To me, this prompts the question: how are these biases expressed in high pressure situations such as rescue missions? Do these men secretly sneer at the tearful man who just lost his home to fire? Do they comfort the tearful woman out of genuine humility, or for their own pleasure? My hope is that all firemen and servicemen, of every branch, are able to set their biases aside and act objectively when interacting with the public, both on and off duty.
The second lesson and true silver lining of this episode was the demonstration of how truly supportive and nurturing the “Ramily” is. I felt undoubtedly safer knowing that at least three members of the Fordham community were there to step in had the situation escalated further. Father McShane is truly the embodiment of our community and its values — although he was exhausted after a long week of Papal obligations, he cheerfully engaged with the students around him and made us feel as if our housing assignments and sports preferences were the most important thing he discussed with anyone all day. If that isn’t cura personalis, I don’t know what is.
Kacie Candela, FCRH’19, is an international political economy major from Franklin Square, New York.