Monday, July 11, 2011

The Journey

It was a train trip across the country, for my youngest brother’s wedding. Six of us were leaving for this adventure; the oldest two were staying behind to travel later with grandparents. We left the East Coast on a Saturday evening in high spirits, with great excitement and anticipation – we would see the country, and wasn’t train travel exotic and even a little European? I had been assured that the seats fully reclined and that sleeping in the regular cars would be comfortable and fun. We were ready!

On the train, Littlest was riveted to the window for an up-close view of tracks, crossing signals and other trains, and the other boys were excited about the snack food we’d packed and their second-hand, seldom allowed little game systems. I sat calmly but a trifle miffed - it was husband’s and my 23rd anniversary that day, and I thought he’d forgotten, and I was feeling a little smug about the still unsigned card I had tucked in my bag to give to him later. We’d been frenzied, getting out of the house on time, and his choice to repair the washing machine pipes hadn’t been on my to-do list (but was certainly a good choice – it was leaking, and oldest son home alone + flooded laundry room + dad gone = bad).

As Littlest called out each train name and the boys settled into their games, Husband turned to me and pulled out a silver-wrapped package from the jewelry store – under wrappings and beautiful box, a silver necklace he’d chosen to go with the dress I planned to wear to the wedding. He’d told the gal at the store that I would be angry with him for forgetting our anniversary, that I would think he’d forgotten, that he would pull this out on the train, and I would feel chagrined for doubting him…he certainly knows me after 23 years. We settled for the night content, thankful, counting blessings.

That first night turned out to be long; the seats do not, actually, recline very far, and the lights are not, actually, turned off down the center of the train during the night. I wrapped a boy’s t-shirt around my head, punched and arranged pillows, rearranged the small boy sleeping on my lap. Littlest woke throughout the night with an excited start at each passing train, sitting up to look out the window and taking with him our shared blanket. Somewhere around Buffalo, sometime around 2 am, Border Patrol entered the car, and walked up and down the aisles asking each sleeping passenger if they were an American citizen and where they were going. I woke feeling very proud of surviving the night, confident that the following morning would find us in Colorado.

We switched trains in Chicago, an enormous station to navigate with four boys and multiple suitcases, backpacks, cooler and pillows, and boarded a two-story train for the final leg of the trip. We were still grinning broadly as we found our seats and began to wind down for the evening. Then the rain started, and the thunder, and the lightning, which, for the record, looks much more alarming over a flat expanse of plain, viewed from the window of a two-story metal can set on tracks on the middle of nowhere. I reminded myself that surely these things were meant to withstand storms, reread the safety manual and studied the emergency escape instructions, distributed blankets (Littlest got his own this time) and went to sleep.

Around 5 am, I woke to see the sun rising on the shore of what looked like a Great Lake. We were due to arrive at 7:30, and I sleepily wondered what huge lake was in Colorado, and why the train wasn’t moving. I crossed the aisle to my husband’s seat and realized with a bit of alarm that the lake was on his side as well…and that trees were growing out of it in random places. The train began to slowly creep along the tracks, and I saw barns and propane tanks and crossing signals rising eerily from the expanse of still water, and later, sandbags stacked alongside the tracks. As dawn broke, the conductor announced that we were in Nebraska. The train had spent much of the night at a stand-still due to tornado warnings, lightning and flash floods, and would now proceed on a slightly different course, slowly, to allow time for braking should there be hazards ahead. There would also, he said, be unscheduled stops for track repairs.

There was no choice, really but to pray and to trust that the conductor knew where to take the train, that he had the skill and the knowledge to do it, and that he would ultimately get us safely to our final destination. We exhausted our supply of food, and the boys enjoyed vacuum packed, microwaved sandwiches from the lounge car (really, they did!). We sat in an observation car and looked at miles of plains and farmland as the train sat and waited for track repairs, and met travelers from throughout the country and overseas. It was announced that we had a five hour delay, then seven, then 10. Finally, nearly 50 hours after we’d left our hometown, we arrived in Colorado at 6pm, weary and sorely in need of showers. There would be nearly two weeks of wonderful visits and sights and reunions with family members, but that night, there was rest.

As I lay (in a bed!) and reflected on our journey, I remembered standing at the front of a church with Husband 23 years earlier. My Uncle David had performed the ceremony, and he reminded us then that marriage is like a train ride. “At first it’s a little rough,” he told us, “and the food isn’t so good and you might want to get off in Chicago.” There will be delays and unexpected events, he told us, but, “you can’t get off. You are in it for the long haul.”

At the time I had neither the benefit of long years of marriage, nor the experience of a long train ride, so I laughed and understood it as best as I could back then, just 22-years old, naïve, idealistic and too self-assured. Now, 23 years and a long train ride later, I was amazed at the accuracy of his comparison. We have passed through storms we never could have expected, that left us shaken or grief stricken or terrified, hanging onto God, the Rock we knew would never desert us, the one Conductor we knew we could trust. We clung to the belief, the hope, that God ultimately had a plan and would bring good from the confusion surrounding us.  There was loss; there was beauty. There were times when people we loved chose to jump into the chaos outside the safety of the “train,” and we could only watch, helpless, trusting again that God uses all things for good. There were interminably long waits, there was redemption. There were, and are, incredible blessings every day.

The two of us, Husband and I, are still on the train ride of our lives, with a whole bunch of passengers of varying ages, so thankful that we didn’t get out off in Chicago but chose to ride for the long haul.

“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” – Romans 5: 2-5

1 comment:

  1. WOW Aimee! WOW! I always enjoy reading your thoughts. This in particular really hit home. Sounds like quite the adventure and I had not thought about what it would mean to littlest to ride on a real train. Surprised he slept at all. Thanks for sharing!