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Friday, November 9, 2018

“Slide Over!”

There are moments in the past that stick out in my memory. Every once in a while I sift through these memories; much like one might turn the pages of a photo album. I'll share one with you.

 One time, years ago, I had to go on a business trip to Montreal. I decided to take Amtrak up because I had the time to spare and I wanted to be able to say that I've ridden the rails the whole length of the east coast from Florida to Canada. The thing is, on the day of the trip I was in a pretty foul mood and feeling a little misanthropic. (Hey, it happens.) I didn't want to deal with a stranger sitting next to me, and I didn't want to talk with anyone. I just wanted to be left alone for a few hours and to look out at the scenery through the window. I'm not proud of this, but in order to ensure my relative solitude, when I got on the train I sat on the aisle seat of a two seater section; I tried to look sick by splashing some water on my face to simulate a feverish sweat, I held a crumpled tissue in my hands, I closed my eyes and tried to look like I had to breathe through my mouth. I might even have left a bag of cough drops on my lap. (I don’t know, is that a little passive-aggressive behavior?) The passengers had just about finished boarding the train and were settling in, and I thought: "Great, my plan worked perfectly." I complemented myself on my cleverness. (This was way before that Doritos commercial, by the way.)

Just before the train started moving, I became aware of a little commotion. Actually it was escalating; I didn't know what it was, but it wasn't my business and I was intent on maintaining my smokescreen of looking sick and being asleep. Suddenly the Lady in the seat behind me got up and took control of the situation. "OK - That's it!" she said, rather loud. Everyone got quiet. She starting issuing commands; "You: move over there!" Someone got up and moved. "You: Move over there!" Someone else got up. "You two: sit over here, NOW you're together!" I'm thinking to myself "Leave me alone, leave me alone, don't sit next to me...." "YOU!" She hits the back of my seat. "SLIDE OVER!"

I slid.

She sits down and with a big smile immediately starts unpacking food from her bag.
"Are you hungry? Do you like cheese?"
"Ah, sure...." That's my stock answer for both questions. I was startled and wasn't really thinking. I started unpacking the food that I brought.

"Do you like cashews?"

We started talking. (and eating) We had a nice little spread between the two of us. Fruit, nuts, cheese, cured meats..... She was a Dr. from Montreal visiting friends in NY. I knew she was older than I was, but I was genuinely surprised when she told me she was in her 70's. Her youthful demeanor, well-worn backpack and manner of dress (Jeans, sweater, vest) all betrayed the fact that she was an outdoor enthusiast; very active and young at heart. We talked the whole length of the trip, we talked about everything; Nothing was off limits.

Somewhere along the Hudson River between Manhattan and Lake Champlain I realized that my heart was on fire; I loved this woman. Not in a romantic way. Not in a sexual way. This was pure platonic love; intimate, affectionate, but not sexual. It felt like I had found another sister, a much older sister; and owing to the sisters that I have been blessed with, those are big shoes to fit into. Very few women have ever come close to that. I didn't know this person the day before, and here I was talking to her about my life, my joys, my woes, and listening intently to her speak about hers.

As we got nearer to the border there were a lot of announcements about the whole process for the border patrol going throughout the train. This was shortly after 9/11 and there was a gravity about the border crossing that I had never experience before. When we got to the border, she started packing up our spread saying "We probably should put our food away; I’m sure you don't want border patrol touching your nuts." I laughed and said that she was certainly right about that. I helped in the cleanup effort, making sure to put my cashews, trail mix and other goodies back in my back pack. Our trays were returned to the upright position as an unusual quietness descended upon the passengers. A few minutes later the Canadian border patrol came into our car; one guard stood at each end of the car - guns drawn, and two started going through the car checking passports. They were all female, by the way. Four female agents in Canadian border patrol uniform. Maybe it's me, but there's something about a woman in uniform…... I leaned over and said that I would like to rescind my last comment. In an otherwise quiet and very serious train car, the two of us were giggling uncontrollably.

We played games along the way; when we got into Canada I was trying to use my knowledge of Latin roots and interpret the contextual clues to decipher the French signs, particularly the billboard advertisements. In each case, I explained my logic and she graded my efforts. 

I was truly sorry when the ride was over. We exchanged numbers, but I lost her number during the trip. She was going to call on her next trip to New York, but I never heard from her again. As the years pass, I think about her from time to time. I don't think I ever experienced a moment when someone was just right there “in my face” so to speak - when I didn't want anyone to be; and yet I couldn't help but really, really appreciate that person for being there and for just being the person that they are. 

I think that I experienced a healing that day; whatever it was that had me in such a foul mood no longer mattered because I drank from the fountain of human kindness on that train from New York to Montreal. I discovered that sometimes the vessel that contains the milk of human kindness approaches us in disguise; it draws near in a form that we would rather avoid if we could. It approaches us at a time when we would rather drink a more bitter ale. This healing moment began when a better person than me made someone else’s problem her own, and ended up imposing herself on my precious solitude. True, I had choices. I could have declined her offer to share her food; I could have shunned conversation - turned my back on her and try to sleep or just stare out the window. I didn’t. I hold on to this memory like the treasure that it is for me and I would like for it to be among my last thoughts as this journey that is my life draws near to the border crossing between this world and the promised land. Perhaps this experience will appear as a stamp on my “passport” so that the “border patrol agents,” looking to see where I have been, will know that my journey has brought me to a few really good places.......

1 comment:

  1. I have had my share of moments like this as well and have drawn the same conclusions. The pendulum has swung from "I hate people!" to "I love people!" a few times and I'm always happier when it's a blessing to be reminded of the humanity within all.


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