Note to self: before tossing a cardboard food tray down a garbage chute on the Amtrak, remember to check the whereabouts of your iPhone. Make sure it is not curled up beneath the tinfoil wrapper of a breakfast burrito, lodged between a crumpled-up napkin and an empty cranberry kombucha bottle, taking a little snooze.

Or else: you might return to your seat and realize—with a jolt to your chest—that your iPhone is missing. You might pat down your pockets like some overly familiar cop and shake out your favorite black hoodie—the one you can wear any time of the day or night without fear of being shot. You might go rifling through your purse and your computer case, then again through your pockets, hoodie, purse, case, again and again, faster and faster. Pockets, hoodie, purse, case, pursecasepursecasepursecase each new rifle accompanied by a rising sense of panic.

You might resort to crawling around on the floor in order to peer beneath your seat, tush in the air in a most undignified manner. You might find only a soda can pull tab for your troubles. You might call yourself names that if a friend called you those names, you would seriously reconsider the friendship.

You might ask a kind-looking stranger if she will call your phone. But when she dials, you might only hear silence. You might thank her anyway before slinking dejectedly back to your seat, trying to figure out a Plan B. You might whisper to your pounding heart: it is only a phone—a replaceable phone, no matter how inconvenient and expensive. You might need to remind yourself that this is a first world problem on a globe beset by many terrible things.

Thankfully the kind-looking stranger might turn out to be kinder than you’d imagined. She might, of her own volition, try calling your number one again while walking slowly up the aisle. She might search the train car so she can tell you, her voice rising with excitement, that she heard a faint ringing in the garbage chute. She might accompany you there and dial again. You might hear the familiar ringtone—the bell of an old rotary phone which sounds like the 1950s is calling—so muffled and forlorn.

You might have to go find the café car lady with the pretty dreadlocks and ask if she would please unlock the garbage chute. You might have to dig around in a huge trash bag the color of old nylon pantyhose that is full of food scraps and soiled napkins and bent paper plates all soaking in deep puddles of coffee.

When you finally grasp your dirty hands around your dirty wet phone, thank your lucky stars for the kind vigilance of a stranger. Be demonstratively appreciative when the café car lady offers you a handful of wet wipes. Be grateful for the pragmatic intelligence of geeky boys who invent things like battery cases that can protect a phone from random liquids. Get down on your knees and thank your god for all your solvable first world problems on a globe beset by so many terrible things.

Especially on a day when, halfway across the earth, a small number of fortunate Syrians have at long last been rescued from rubble that was once their houses, from a war zone that was once their homeland. They are safely on board buses, being ferried to the lesser hell of a refugee camp, surely thanking Allah for his mercy and for the kindness of strangers, when the convoy is hit by a bomb.

Related: More ‘Viva Macondo’ entries

Sharon Gelman

Sharon Gelman is a writer, editor, media producer, and human rights advocate who focuses on the intersection of art and activism. She is the US editor of and interviewer for 200 Women: Who Will Change...