“Where did you come from and where are you going?”
That’s the perfect conversation starter when you’re on a moving train. Even though it was the start of a holiday weekend, some of us were starting out and some were going home; some of us would resume our normal lives and some of us were starting a new adventure. A woman in the seat behind me was moving to San Diego for work and had planned to ride the train all the way, but decided to get off at one of the early stops and road trip the rest with a friend. I eavesdropped on a young man who had never taken this trip before and dreamed of seeing Mt. Shasta; his touristy errors about California geography amused his seatmate, who lived there. One man informed me he was returning to his job as a transportation planner in L.A. Better you than me! I thought.
I wasn’t scheduled for the longest journey or the shortest, though mine was long enough that it felt like an adventure: watching the sunset from the observation car, sleeping with my purse as a pillow in coach class. I’d brought plenty to amuse myself along the way: St. Augustine’s Confessions and a (dense, lush) book on St. John of the Cross called The Impact of God, an audio book (Ready Player One) to listen to while knitting, some Greek homework and writing prompts. I was an old hand at these long journeys, having done thirty-six hours on the Greyhound bus to visit friends as a teenager. Once I even bussed from Tucson, Arizona to Appleton, Wisconsin for a total of forty-eight hours. This was nothing to that trip, and I knew if I brought good distractions, the time would go quickly.
Some hours in, I started to ponder the questions we ask each other on a train. I couldn’t leave my seat without being asked my itinerary by another traveler who was likely crossing paths with me for the first and only time. After “Where did you come from and where are you going?” the next question was always, “Why?” My answer was simple enough: visiting my mother. People nodded their heads when I said it. But I couldn’t help thinking they didn’t know how much of a story lurked in that statement, what a big deal it was for me to see her in person after all this time, how much I hoped for our relationship to be healed and redeemed by my visit. I’m sure there was much more to their stories, too, perhaps things they would never tell another person.
Time is also a moving train, a one-way trip we never bought a ticket for. Some of us have a long journey through time, others a short one, and we don’t know which. Some of us try to distract ourselves so time will pass more quickly, while others spend our time appreciating the changing beauty of the passing landscape and forming a deeper connection with our fellow passengers.
I’m definitely more of the first type, and I’d like to be more of the second.
So let’s start with these basic questions. I’m coming from a painful childhood and adolescence, during which I formed a lot of bad habits as coping mechanisms for my loneliness and confusion. I’m traveling on a path that has helped me become aware of what needs to change, and I’m hoping my destination will be a more complete and compassionate adulthood, with less ego and more pure wonder. I’m doing it because I want to be in better relationship with God, others, and myself, and because I dare to hope it’s possible with the help of the One who made up my itinerary.
Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Why?