As 2016 dies and 2017 is born, as we say goodbye to the old and hello to the new, while we contemplate the past and anticipate the future, my introspective mind replays the human drama I’ve witnessed daily. People watcher that I am, up on my perch in the locomotive northbound, or tucked away in my almost hidden cab car compartment southbound, my memory is full of little glimpses of people’s lives.
The routine daily commute of the many headed to and from school or work, is peppered with memorable little snippets of drama.
Last spring I walked the train as the conductor when an old Frenchman wheeled his very feeble wife onto the train. I knew he was a Frenchman because this was the language he tenderly spoke into her ear. He sat right behind her wheelchair and leaned forward to hold her. She seemed only half aware of her surroundings, but she was fully aware of his presence.
I wondered of their love story. Watching him care for her, I didn’t wonder that it was a beautiful story. He comfortably draped himself over the back of her wheelchair while chatting on his phone, also in French. He seemed as at home as if they were at their place in Marseille, lounging on the sofa, watching TV.
It was chilly outside, an early spring storm in progress. He layered his old jacket on top of her current wraps to help take the chill from her. As we neared their stop, the rain was coming down harder. I watched his worried face. He pulled out another hat, one with fur lined flaps to cover her ears. Then he placed another wrap on top of her. Where he got that one from, I had no idea.
As he ventured out into the rain, seeking their bus connection, I thought of my own Beautiful Wife. Hoping in our declining years, that my health holds out longer then hers, so I can be like this wonderful Frenchman, doting over the love of my life when she really needs me.
I’ve glimpsed many late night farewell hugs and kisses, as lovers young and old are parted by the closing train doors. To some, it seemed to be the ending of a great date. For others a temporary parting, as one is headed to an overnight job, or off to the airport on a business trip.
Frequently, as I roll into the station, a large group catches my eye. The huddle, focused on one person in particular, tells me that this is a farewell. Only one will be boarding my train.
Sometimes it seems that it’s a joyous occasion. The well-wishers are as excited for the new adventure as the traveler. But more often the sadness of saying goodbye seems to reveal uncertainty. Perhaps the welfare of the traveler is the concern. Likely the parting brings loneliness, a separation with an unknown future.
When I see these tearful, unwilling partings, the image of the first time I was scared to death by a movie comes to mind. I was a small child attending a Saturday matinée. Darby O’Gile and the Little People was showing. (Yes, I’m am that old. This was fifty some odd years ago.) I was scared to death as the Banshee called for Darby O’Gile. My four or five year old self watched in fear and trembling as the Death Coach came gliding down from the stormy night sky to collect it’s unwilling passenger.
As I bring my train to a stop at the station and open the doors, I can still hear the Coachman from that movie command Darby O’Gile, “Step in!”
On one poignant occasion, I was the ominous faceless black robed figure, impatiently waiting to move on into the black stormy sky.
A woman, likely the small boy’s mother, stepped on my train as I locked up the doors and began my departure. Looking back from my mirror was this small boy standing on the platform watching our departure with unrestrained tears as we distanced from the station.
This conjured a wave of sorrow in me. Suddenly I was the little boy, standing on the platform watching as my own mother, who passed away this year, left on the train.
Now I was the driver again, wondering where the woman was headed, which station she would be getting off at. I thought there must be a happy reunion coming on the other end of her travels.
I pondered this experience as a metaphor of life and death. As 2016 closes we, as a society, have watched many of our great ones pass on. As we are left to wonder how life will be without them, I’m the small boy on the station platform watching the train depart with my mother. My mother’s sad goodbye to me soon became a happy hello to my dad and others who have passed on before.
As we say goodbye to this 2016, and the many experiences that went with it, and as we say hello to 2017 and its promise of new opportunities of life, my hellos and goodbyes mean more to me now.
Some of my hellos and goodbyes are framed together within a few seconds on a train platform – small glimpses of the little things that make the drama of life. Many are in life long relationships built with loved ones. But to me, all of these hellos and goodbyes improve me. As I experience them up close or from a distance, they bring me joy and happiness. They make me a better person. Amidst the trouble and turmoil of daily living, along with the pain and suffering that we all endure, these hellos and goodbyes are the seasonings that make this life worth living.