The Train Station


Apart from a variety of subways and commuter trains, I’ve only taken long distance trains twice for traveling. The first was across the UK in the 80s, which was a blast, and the second was last year to visit my friend and his friends to watch and celebrate the Supernatural ninth season finale.

I loved the visit, but the train travel made up half of the fun. It was an adventure.

My anxiety gave me bits to worry about, and I would have to stay over in Penn Station from 2am to 7am until my last train home, but all the parts in between were new and wondrous, and sleeping on my suitcase at 3am in Penn Station was not actually as bad as I was expecting.

I have always called this my retreat week, and as I mentioned earlier in the week, that may not be the correct word to use. In my search for a better word, journey came to mind, and while I still haven’t settled on it (or any other), I was zapped with creative lightning, better known as inspiration and actually said out loud: What better place to begin this week’s journey than at the train station.

It wasn’t bright and early, but I managed to get myself to the Amtrak station at the tail end of Sunday morning, and began by taking photos outside.

I don’t remember the old station, but the new one is very attractive and welcoming. (I sound like a tourist guide.)The last time I was there was Easter week and it was cold and cloudy and rushed.

When I went in this time, I took inventory of the place – coffee shop, gift store, waiting area, ticket counter, post office section and people.

I didn’t look too out of place – I had my briefcase with my notebooks, an umbrella, so I more or less fit in with most of the other travelers.

I found a seat and people watched for a few minutes, trying to squint my eyes enough to see the departures board as if I needed to see when that train was getting into DC.

For a second, I forgot that I wasn’t actually going anywhere.

I still felt like pretending. I took out my Kindle and that was where the unexpected urge to begin James Martin’s Together on Retreat with the First Prayer appeared. Seriously – I was just going to play a game and see what I wanted to do there.

My space wasn’t silent; it was barely still, but even so I felt the solitude in spite of the people milling about, hugging, taking pictures, checking the sizes of their carry-ons, calling each other from across the station. I noticed a Tardis hat, and the Red Caps finding wheelchairs and carting luggage around.

I could feel myself inwardly smiling.

It reminded me of the sensation of traveling: the list making, the packing, the plans, and the heartbeat of excitement that is the mix of adventure and anxiety – that typical but not typical wonder, not of getting from point A to point B, but the thrill of everything that comes in between.

I began to read.

His first prayer is to reflect on the scripture Mark 1:16-20, the call of the first disciples. This was very dramatic for me, having only recently been called. Once He (Jesus) beckons them, they follow. There’s no real suspense for us, the reader, knowing the outcome of this nearly two thousand year old book, but the part of me at home in the train station was envious, not only of their first-hand account of Jesus’ teachings but of their impending travel to parts unknown.

I wonder if they thought about the new things they’d see; or the old things they’d see with new eyes. Did they just go without a second thought or was there deliberation in hindsight?

This is one of the reasons that much of my writing, even the non-travely writing often has travel and journeying metaphors. Moving from one place to the next, whether physically or emotionally remains how I describe the changes in my life, physically and metaphysically.

I’m walking a path, parts of it are dark, parts of it are scary, but portions are also light and exciting. Sometimes we have a traveling partner, a companion, and sometimes, for some sections of it, we travel alone. Well, not quite alone. Walking with G-d, we are never alone.

And so the train station was so many things that day. I didn’t notice how long I’d been just sitting there, reading, contemplating, meditating and writing. It was more of jotting things down, and typing notes into my Kindle where I agreed with Father Martin. He was like a whisper in my ear, sharing his time in the Holy Land, and letting me take his experiences and use them to create an oasis of Holy Land around my seat by the window.

For a moment, I wondered if I could afford one round trip ticket. What is the cheapest ticket that I could buy and still get back by tonight? I didn’t bother to check. Sometimes, the journey isn’t getting on the train; it’s finding the next place on the map and heading thataway.

There are so many things to think about this week.

No point sitting still; I hear the whistle; it’s time to go!

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