Our article today is from a college classmate. It resonated to the degree that I wanted you to share Rich’s train ride. ~MDH
If you have heard Bruce Springsteen’s song, “This Train,” the lyrics of his song will help you understand my view of this inevitable ageing process we all go through.
Should I get on? Today, April 17, 2018, is my birthday and I’m not just a year older, I’ve have reached the age of 77 years, but I appear to be still on my feet and know who I am. As some people tell me, “I have aged gently.” I think that is partly due, to the fact that I have never experienced much blunt-force trauma to my head, had any combat experience other than karate sparring, made it through my schooling without too much difficulty, and lived a quiet suburban life, so far. Other than my aches and pains of my body growing older I don’t feel older until I look in the mirror and wonder who is that person staring back at me with a look of disbelief.
Many years ago, I can remember one warm summer day after a game of sixteen-inch softball in the vacant lot, my playmates and I were sitting in our wagons outside Spiegel’s neighborhood grocery store, licking the cold Popsicles we had just bought, and enjoying one another’s friendship. Surely, through the enjoyment of this congeniality someone broke the silence with the question, “How long do you think we will live to?” We were still too uneducated to speak in the proper vernacular of our parents and not end our sentences with a preposition. “I don’t know, how long do you want to live to?” You see, the future for us was, just, what were we going to do tomorrow, so closure to that deep philosophical question was always, “I don’t know…who cares.”
Who cares, like This Train I got on board early in my birth without knowing why I was even taking This Train ride; it wasn’t even my choice. As my train pulled out of that birthing station my parents held on to me tightly as This Train, then pulled by a puffing steam engine, made its jerking start in life until we got rolling along. It did not take long for This Train to begin stopping along the tracks at various stations called birthdays while along the way my view of the scenery passing by my window began to change and I soon enjoyed and understood what I was witnessing outside. Sure, I still did not know the destination of This Train ride, nor at the time did I even wonder or care where I was traveling so long as I was safe and had steel tracks to guide me straight and true.
As I made my various station stops along the way, passengers in my car and train would alight or depart and new passengers would board in their place. Sometimes some would take the time to talk to me and impart some of their worldly knowledge as they shared the passing outside world we watched together from our seats. Some people I just watched and observed wondering who they were, where they were going, and what impact they had on the world outside of This Train. Occasionally, as the train made wide, sloping turns where I could see the front engine pulling our train, and I could get a quick glimpse our engineer, Father Time, who was at the controls. Occasionally, as he looked back at the train he engineered, a smile would cross his lips. I don’t know if he saw me with my nose pressed against my seat window, but he smiled anyway as he knew he was providing me with a smooth and safe journey down the tracks. He knew the destination of This Train, and he knew there was no hurry to get there…at least for some of us. He just hoped that everyone was enjoying their ride. I also had a conductor in my car who did what his title claimed; he conducted the business of our destination informing me when the various stations along the way would be coming up and approximately what time we would reach them. He knew the time-table of this destination much more than I did.
Traveling down the tracks and growing older at birthday stations I could now get off the train, as it rested and refueled, to experience and peruse what the station offered. It often had racks of pamphlets of places I could visit if I stayed longer, or pamphlets that reminded me of places and people that were now part of my life. Importantly, in the station, were those strangers who I did not know, but who joined me in my passenger car. These persons through their conversation, their sharing of knowledge, love and warmth soon would no longer be strangers but friends and some who would ride this journey with me and my family all the way to the end on This Train.
As This Train made more stops the time spent in certain stations was long, in some cases years, like there was a station for schooling, a station for courting and marrying, and a station for raising a family. Now, boarding This Train, I need to use the conductor’s stool to help me reach that first step back into my train compartment. Not only that, but while I was off in one of those lengthy station visits, the engineer, Father Time, uncoupled the slow steam engine and attached a new, sleeker, and faster diesel engine. And now, after rolling along, the scenery outside began to fly by faster and the birthday stations seem to come upon me so quickly that I began to lose count and realized that I must have miscounted because, surely, that last station was not the number everyone told me it was. By now, my car was filled with family and friends, but I also realized that some of them were getting off at their own stations, like my parents and my wife, which was their final destinations never to return or get back on This Train.
Today, after 77 station stops my train compartment is not as full as it once was and sometimes I look out my window in solitude trying to make sense of my future destination. So far, the conductor has not come down the rolling aisle to punch my ticket indicating my last stop, so I will continue to ride down the track ahead of me while occasionally stretching my legs and walking to the rear of This Train to gaze out the rear door window to see where I have been and what I have passed. Eventually, I will turn and holding on to the edge of the seats for security and to maintain my balance in life, I will walk forward to my seat in my own car and stare out my window and try to make sense and appreciate the new scenery that is awaiting me down the tracks. It would be tough to make this journey alone. Thank you for accompanying me on This Train.
Rich Samonte graduated from Blackburn College in 1962. He has been an active alumni ever since, traveling to Carlinville, Illinois frequently. When his wife, Barbara, was alive, they shared this stop and return visits together. His positive attitude shows through. His train did stop in Carlinville and continues to return. I am not sure I’ve ever met an alumni that promotes their school better. He keeps all of the classmates up-to-date. ~MDH