A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


It was the sniffling, finally, that got to me.

Not the chin ups on the light rail train hand straps. Not the constant din of teenage cell phone chatter. Not even the almost overwhelming aroma of a diaper in desperate need of maintenance. None of these things bothered me about the family sitting across the aisle from me on the commuter train that afternoon.

Just the sniffling, emanating from a youngster I'd guess to be about 10 years old.

It was constant.



And if that wasn't a word (meaning "tireless" and "incessant") before I got on the train that day, it certainly was after. Because my little sniffling buddy was exactly that.

Tireless and incessant. You know - indefatigable.

And I wasn't the only one who noticed. The lady in the seat facing mine glanced up from her magazine more than once, gazing across the aisle at the raucous little family. She probably wondered as I did why the mother seemed to pay no attention to the aural explosions erupting from her son's sinuses. At one point the lady looked for all the world like she was about to say something. But she hesitated, then buried her face in her magazine again.

It was just as well. What could she say in the face of something so... you know... indefatigable?

At the next stop, another woman boarded the train and sat next to the lady reading the magazine. She was one of "those" commuters - you know the kind. Instead of avoiding eye contact, they look fellow passengers directly in the eye. Instead of earnestly avoiding human contact and interaction, they smile and chat amiably with anyone about anything. And instead of being overwhelmed by something indefatigable, they offer a tissue.

"Here you go, young man," she said, smiling. "Sounds like you could use this."

"Oh, thank you," the boy's mother said, relieved. "He's got allergies."

"Oh, I know," the new woman said. "I've got 'em too. And they've been awful this year."

"Tell me about it," the mother said. "I keep reminding him, don't go anywhere without some tissue. But he never listens."

"Well, if you think it's bad now, you just wait until he's a teenager," the new woman said. "Why, with my boys it was . . ." and she was off on a long story that extended for several stops and included references to teen drinking, body piercing and Brittany Spears.

Don't ask.

Meanwhile, I couldn't help but notice that the sniffling had stopped.




Turns out indefatigability is no match for a stranger who cares.

And that's nothing to sneeze at. Or sniffle, as the case may be.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and