The Slow Train
It doesn’t matter so much where I’m going, so long as I’m going.
Of the pieces of the pie that divvy up my happiness when I’m on a train, I don’t know exactly how much is allocated to, “I’m neither here nor there, but I’m on my way.” But it’s a lot.
I think it’s just the moving that I enjoy, the actual movement, the motion, the action of going somewhere. The action of seeing the places along the way, peeking into towns where I might love to live, observing the others I probably wouldn’t, letting those in between serve as just that: the places in between. I try to appreciate where I’m from and where I’m going–and where I am. There is time to dwell on these issues, as we’re on the slow train. Time that we don’t usually have–or make.
We don’t have time, we make it, we choose what to do with it.
I was in the Munich train station many years back and looking into trains to Prague. I didn’t have many plans for that day, or well, those several months. My German friend was there with me. I asked at the window what I thought was clear, but the woman behind the counter didn’t seem to understand. My German was pretty good at that point, but maybe it was lost in translation. My German friend and I spoke French together, so I told him exactly what I wanted and he looked at me the same way the woman behind the counter did. When he understood that I wasn’t kidding, he shook his head and gave me a smile that said he knew me, loved me, understood the words I said, but was convinced I was, hmm, how to say this nicely: a rare bird. He relayed back to me what he thought I said so he could relay it to her and then he told the same thing to her: “Yes, my friend wants the slowest train you can find to Prague.”
There was no language barrier at this point, only the barrier of one’s own use of time, the management and understanding of it, appreciation of it, love of it, respect of it. I wasn’t, to say the least, in a hurry. In fact, I didn’t really even need to get to the destination, I just wanted to be in the act of getting there. Getting there, in fact, required thought, action, planning, money, decisions and responsibility. Getting there held me in a “suspended animation” where I wasn’t yet there, but I was past where I had been. It was the ideal place to be.
Is it all just an escape from reality?
Do I just not want to get to the destination so I can avoid the responsibility that comes with arrival? Sure, partly. But maybe it’s in that middle ground, that no-man’s land where I can look back at where I’ve come from and ahead to where I’m going with more clarity. Because I’m not here nor there, I can see it more clearly, analyze it, judge it, understand it and make decisions about them both. I’m also so enthralled with the middle world because I’m not here as much as I’d like to be. But I suppose that were I here as much as I think I’d like to be, it would lose some of its appeal, maybe some of its value.
It’s 22 years since that day in the Munich station–almost to the day. Not much has changed in my view on the value of time and how I prefer to use it. I have to admit, I’m fiercely proud that I still value time in much the same way. I no longer live near Munich, but I did need to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco today. There are lots of flights. I even now own a car. But I had, er, made the time for this day. I have my 9-year old with me. I figured I better get him used to the slow lane. We took the train. It’s nice and slow. We just passed a little place called Wasco and we looked out the window and saw giant mounds of brown something or others. Turns out they’re almond shells. Odd and, for the most part, useless bits of information that I enjoy so dearly. I told him all about it. He nodded and tried to be interested. If my son knew what I was thinking and what I was writing, he’d love me, but think I was most certainly a rare bird. I’ll take it.