With One Photo, The Average Commute Becomes Super Special

Dec 12, 2013
Originally published on December 17, 2013 11:53 am

Each month on Instagram, we team up with KPCC and suggest a photo assignment for our project Public Square. In October, we wanted to see your commute — that perfectly average and ordinary part of the day that many of us share. Lots of you participated. And one photo in particular had a special story.

Amateur photographer Jabali Sawicki commutes by subway from Brooklyn into New York's Penn Station every morning. But on a recent return trip home he noticed something different with the assignment in mind:

"It was as if all of New York City had vanished into the background," he says. "All the noise and chaos of the subway and commute had died down. And all that was left was a mother and her son reading."

Sawicki captured the moment, shared it, and then likely forgot about it.

The mother, it turns out, was Megan Freund, who commutes every day with her young son, Eli. Eli goes to day care near where his mother works as a teacher.

Shortly thereafter, Freund was scrolling through some of the Instagram commute photos we posted here, when she saw the picture Sawicki had taken of her and her son on the train:

"I started crying because I was so overwhelmed," she says. "He's sort of curled up next to me and I'm reading him a book about dinosaurs, actually, my father had given to me when I was 8 years old for Christmas. It was pretty incredible that somebody had noticed that moment."

She left a comment on the blog and also left a comment thanking Sawicki on Instagram.

"I probably read it four times before I realized what was happening," he says. "The fact that somehow miraculously she had found this picture and that it meant so much to her."

He mailed a print of the photo to Freund.

"It's a really nice reminder," says Freund, "especially when the days are long, the commutes are long ... we're so fortunate to have this time together."

Keep an eye out for the next Public Square assignment on Instagram!

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And we've been asking you to share your commuting pictures and stories with us, and then we've been posting them online to a special NPR commuting project. One of those pictures led to this story.


Amateur street photographer Jabali Sawicki of Brooklyn, New York likes to spend his commute taking pictures of who and what he sees around him.

MONTAGNE: He tagged a photo on Instagram of a mother and son on a subway. The two appear to be in their own world, reading a book together, the little boy's hand resting on his mother's shoulder as she tenderly bends over him. Here's Sawicki's caption.

JABALI SAWICKI: 5:15 p.m. on the C train, 34th Street, Penn Station, back home to Fort Greene, Brooklyn: giving the gift of reading, a magical moment between mother and son. It may seem like just another subway ride, but with a book an imagination, the adventures are limitless.

INSKEEP: He did not know the mother son, but he was about to meet them, thanks to his photo.

MONTAGNE: That's because she was checking in on the online NPR commuting project, and she saw someone had posted the C train commute.

MEGAN FREUND: I was reading the news online, and I saw that the story had been posted, and I was very disappointed, because I had wanted to take a picture of our commute. And so I was scrolling through the photos, and I saw myself. And it was just sort of - it was surreal to see myself and my son sitting there on the train reading, and that somebody had noticed that moment.

MONTAGNE: That's Megan Freund. She commutes three hours a day with her three-and-a-half-year-old son, Eli. They've been doing it since he was a baby.

FREUND: You know, I started crying, just because I was so overwhelmed. It felt really incredible. Obviously, we ride the train a lot. And, you know, sometimes the commute, while it's lovely and we get to spend lots and lots of time together, sometimes it's just work, you know, if he's in a bad mood, or I'm tired. But somebody noticed that there was something really important going on between us. It felt incredible.

INSKEEP: So, having discovered this photo online, Freund reached out to Sawicki online, and asked for a copy. The two quickly realized they have more in common: they are both educators, both parents, and they share part of a commute.

SAWICKI: Every day now that I get on the train, I'm looking, just 'cause I want to give her son a high-five and give her a hug and tell her she's doing a fantastic job.

FREUND: It's a really nice reminder, especially, you know, especially when the days are long and the commutes are long, that we're so fortunate to have this time together.

MONTAGNE: You can see a picture Jabali Sawicki took of Megan Freund and her son at NPR.org, and you can share your commuting images and stories with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #NPRCommute. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.