Missing the train seems to be a common occurrence in the world of Amtrak. Everyone I’ve encountered seems to have done it once at least. Still, the nightmares I will be having these next few weeks will consist of law school exams and missing the train.
Contrary to what you might think, missing the train isn’t a completely bad experience. Flexibility and openness are valuable lessons to be learned, and I got to see how I react to the removal of control. Stability was not so easily obtained at first, but it was definitely good to learn to tell myself that no panic was needed, that I will be okay.
On Being Okay
Once the choice was made to be okay with spontaneous change, a whole new awareness was awarded to me. My trip switched from the west side of the country to the east, and my goals were the same: to rest, study, love people, experience new places and people, and learn about life. These also happen to be my long term goals, but I seek them deliberately on this trip in order to be reminded of how big the world is, how many people there are to love, and how inexperienced I am in so many ways. Even though much of my traveling only provides a survey of the cities, each location shapes me into a better, more accurate life – to be lived among all these other lives.
I believe that the changes in the ETA have been intentional shapings by my Maker so that I would get to encounter or be encountered by specific people, as illustrated from ETA No. 1. On the trip from Chicago to New York City, I had actually gotten on the wrong train, having confused the Metra tracks with the Amtrak ones – I got on a Metra train that boarded at the same time as the Amtrak counterpart. Providently, there was another train heading directly into Penn Station just one hour later.
In Vine’s video curriculum for kids, we have been teaching about how Jesus wants us to serve those around us. He wants to do miracles in our hearts so that we are able to see the needs of those around us and respond accordingly. Also, as refrained in the Brooke Fraser song “Flags,” we can be certain that the first will be last, and the last will be first.
Upon boarding the correct train, I spotted a good two-seater that was empty and would allow me to have extra room (a trending behavior among Amtrak riders). However, as I was settling myself in, a mother with a baby approached and commented that there are no more two-seaters. Because I was somewhat tired (and in hindsight, somewhat dehydrated), my brain wasn’t thinking or responding to much of my surroundings. However, my mouth opened and blurted out, “oh do you need to sit together with someone? Because I can totally move somewhere else.” I had no idea where that came from. Then my body got up and started moving my stuff to find another seat.
I spotted a gentleman who had his macbook open; and since Apple products have been extremely significant in my life, my tired mind took it as a sign and asked if I could sit there. We could be mac buddies, I thought. As I was settling down yet again, I noticed that the conversation in this seating area was very lively, so I tuned in. The row was talking about singing parts – one was a baritone, the other was a composer, etc. “I sing alto!” I blurted. So much blurting, geez.
I soon found out that these people have extremely beautiful personalities and are extremely knowledgeable in so many meaningful ways. Every word coming out of their mouths were like gold nuggets, rubies, and sapphires for listeners to gather up, admire, and make art.
It’s a small world, after all. The Writer worked in theater with one of my friends in high school who went to college in the Midwest. He speaks with eloquence, constructing each sentence with such quality of art that it was a pleasure just to hear him express himself. He is working on an educational card game for children that teaches fun usages of idioms. He wrote a limerick in ten minutes, and taught us a stimulating word game called ‘Contact.’ “What’s not to love about Pushing Daises?!” he exclaims.
Hailing from the city of Angels is the Librarian, working hard to preserve knowledge and thoughts for the appreciation of all who desire them. The bravest Amtrak rider of us all, the Librarian has traveled from LA in order to celebrate the festival of Thanks with his friends in the Big Apple. He speaks of humble beginnings in being educated in wine through a friendly, local brewery. He tells us of themed (most memorably, of Pirates) Korean coffee shops that aim to provide a fun and safe harbor for groups of friends to bond more tightly. It is good to know that there are still places in the world where people are encouraged to sit, stay, share, and be, rather than run in, get coffee, and run out.
Engaged and deeply in love with his gorgeous fiancee, the Composer falls asleep to Haydn and fugues blasting out of his high-definition headphones, conducting the orchestra as he slips into slumber. He is out cold.
"I went to school in New Haven," he said, modestly. Wisdom-filled insights would not stop flowing out of his mouth. Incredibly informed and amiably formidable, the Physician was an intellectual giant, with a tiny hint of social awkwardness. With a firm grasp of social policy, the Physician sustained our discussions of biophysics, education, politics, art, law, and progressive healthcare. Unfortunately, he has a headache. He rests.
The beast picked up the Freshman at the South Bend station, slightly after the witching hour. Those around him had been asleep for a few hours. He pulls out Calculus and EMT, trying to find light without waking up his neighbors. How considerate. I lend him my reading light and fall back asleep, waking up every now and then to find him studying hard through my half-closed lids. I drift and return to the darkness.
The remaining half of the trip went by quickly. One’s sense of time does get warped on a long-distance train. Scrambled eggs and coffee were served over a sweet conversation with a seasoned couple. Both having taught in high school and college for over a decade, the soldier and his wife happily share their experiences and pointed out Lake Eerie to me as we passed it. They have successful children all over the world, and had endless stories of their impactful ventures.
Back in coach, the Composer was gone for most of the day, working on his thesis composition. The rest of us continued enlightening conversations…the Freshman was inspired to continue in his exploration of pre-medicine, the Librarian infected us with his passion for creative education, and we all enjoyed each other’s companies without words as we sped down the Hudson River, reflecting on the complete sunset on its rippling surfaces.
Until you live by a train station, or live in a small town that is centered on a train station, I don’t think you would be able to understand the call of the trains. Most people find the bellowings annoying, but those who listen can hear its beckonings. Take it more slowly. Sit back and let someone else take control for a while. Enjoy the view. Enjoy small-town America. Enjoy the movement.
Indeed, there is a rhythm about the train that grabs hold of the soul and massages it to stillness and rest. The symphony of sounds made by wood and metal is uncanny. At some points on the journey, the train cruised past empty fields, quietly gliding, gently bouncing as if to suddenly depart from the tracks and float in the still night air. Those moments were magical, not unlike Miyazaki-esque scenes of catharsis when characters soar in bliss, unfettered by the normal things of the world.
And then there are people in the little windows. Most of them sound asleep, overcome by the fatigue of being in between places. Dreams fill the cars as their makers suspend in limbo.
We are riders in the night — resting and running, breaking down and building up, quietly roaring past town after town of warm, sleeping souls.
Rise and shine, it’s brrrreakfast time!
Eyelids slowly let in the gradual lights peeping from behind the curtains and foggy windows. Groggy footsteps head towards the dining car. Waiters and waitresses move the hand of Fate and sit strangers together in rattling booths. The smell and splash of coffee signals the beginning of small talk and self-introductions. Souls collide and engage in community as stomachs digest scrambled eggs, grits, and corn muffins. Laughter and joyous chatter rise above the roars of passing trains. The gentle giant gradually awakens as characters bustle in and out of the lounges and bathrooms.
The conversations are as golden as the morning light. One soul shares a breath of life that revives another, and refreshing insights restore the very hopes that will fuel lives for the rest of the day. The space is teeming with exchanged ideas, meetings of minds, innovative exhortations. The German journalist, Kentuckian anthropologist, and Illinoisan student are forever changed because of those forty-five minutes. That dining booth filled and vacated as its tenants left, forever changed.
the German journalist.
He calls himself Nicholas. With a winsome face and suave accent, he travels the great continent for three months, away from home, away from rigidity, in hopes of hearing the Voice. Freshly scrambled eggs, grits, a corn muffin, and no breakfast meats, thank you. Oh, and cranberry juice. He stirs honey into the grits. He reads the souls of those whom his eyes penetrate. He writes and expresses his view freely. He is one of us — a changer. He is going to get some shut-eye now.
the Kentuckian anthropologist.
Social influences, societal behavior, torts, and family came with his scrambled eggs, grits, and sausage patties. Well-versed in education and social enlightenment, the anthropologist calls himself John and improves people’s awareness of themselves and human existence. He is generous with his knowledge, and eager to spread his compassion like the infectious flu. Hmm, that is interesting, indeed. Oh? I did not know that at all. I had no idea. What does this responsibility look like? What are the practical ramifications? Civilization needs to embrace diversity to thrive. They have never agreed with him more.
The beast pulls forward, then backward for a few safety stops before perching at the windy station. Feet meet stability on the platforms, suitcases roll. Souls pour into the Great Hall and settle throughout the concourses and out the doors to be carried away by the wind. The Robert asks for help and friendship. A sister prays protection and blessing over him. He is heading out of town to find Rest before jump-starting his life again. The Visionary sits at a table in the corner. He paints pictures of a just and caring society. Hard-working and sincere, he sees and incites change for a better healthcare community. He will never abandon his children, nor those who need him most. His visions become more clear as he speaks his ideas into existence. Go and achieve, Visionary, the world is counting on you…
A man is giving Spongebob Squarepants and Paul Frank a ride on his head. It is time. Next.
in my awesome small group, my leader was praying for me when the Spirit spoke through her and broke through yet another layer of foggy glass in my heart. He said, “just remember who you are, who I’ve made you to be…” i’d been praying about who He wants me to become on a daily basis, in the near and the far future, and had come to a block in my understanding as to seeing His perspective of things.
when she prayed over me for a confirmation of identity, all i thought was my spiritual identity. i had so easily forgotten my past. good, genuine friends are such blessings. a friend and i talked at length today, and the conversation somehow traveled around the world to the place where i was born as i traveled back in time to re-live my past — something i hadn’t done in a long, long time. my family’s story is like a crazy story of one miracle after another. my parents are “superheroes,” in her words; i agree.
i could hardly believe that the story i was telling was the story of my life. it hasn’t even been ten years and i had forgotten my history. that is why i have been experiencing fogginess when seeking for His heart and perspective on my role in His future — i was not able to let Him use my past to speak to my present and future.
i have been extremely blessed to have gone through this journey so far. and life will continue to be an utmost privilege to live.
pull me and push me till i hear You singing 'cause this is the Real thing
Well, hey Rebekah, it’s not only in your mind. But it takes something unusual to make it happen. When we make ourselves work overtime, That’s when faith will find you, dear And remind you that it never is too late.
Breathe in, breathe out, Know that you’re alive. Breathe in, breathe out, Know that you’re alive