I remember the first time I was ever on a train. It was September 7, 2013, and my very first week in Switzerland. The day was perfect — sunny, warm, and exactly like the weather I had left back home in California. Once the ticket situation was figured out and squared away, my friends and I strutted our way up to the platform headed for Geneva. We posed for pictures in front of the train tracks and made ourselves look like complete tourists. As I stood waiting for the train to screech to a halt, excitement began to build up inside of me. I had no idea what to expect. Would it be like the Hogwarts Express? Would it be like the trains in the old Wild West movies? I had no idea. Unfortunately (or maybe not as unfortunately), the Swiss trains are not as old fashioned or as full of wizards. Even though I do not still pose for pictures or squeal when the train arrives, my captivation with trains has not decreased. Instead of just pure curiosity, trains have taken on a new meaning in my life.
Trains are direction. Trains are travel. Trains are questions.
Trains are direction. Trains know where they are going and they know where they’ve been. When they stop at a station they open up their doors and invite you along on their journey. All we have to do is decide whether or not we would like to join. Trains have a perfect sense of direction. My sense of direction, on the other hand, is cause for much amusement with my family and friends. As my dad loves to say over and over again, “I get lost in my own driveway.” But trains know where they are going, and they know where they’ve been. And this is what I admire them for. I always know where I want to go, but I don’t always know how to get there. But with trains, I have a perfect sense of direction. Anna Funder once said, “I like trains. I like the freedom of being suspended between two places, all anxieties of purpose taken care of: for in this moment I know where I am going.” But sometimes it’s not so smooth — sometimes you miss your train. Sometimes you miss your stop. Sometimes you miss the last train home from Italy and you have to singlehandedly figure out a new route that requires 11 different trains. Not that I know from experience or anything. Of course, it is always nerve-wracking when this happens, but it is also exciting. With trains, you know that there is always a way and everything will work out. If I got lost while driving a car, than that’s it, I’m doomed. There is no hope that I would ever be able to figure out the direction myself. But trains always have a set direction. They always know where they are going. Trains are a direct connection between unseen places.
Trains are travel. There is a difference between travelers and tourists. Tourists go to see the major sites, but travelers travel for the experience of moving from one place to another. Trains are the travelers. It is my dream to just get on a random train and take it to wherever it goes and from there take more and more trains. When you are on a train, you are right on the surface. You can see the a whole country from a train window. The train is a small world moving through a much larger world. On every train there are people from all over the world with their own lives, thoughts, and opinions. There are endless possibilities.
Trains are questions. I quickly became familiar with the shrieking, screeching, and squealing noises of the trains below my window. Instead of these shrill sounds irritating me, they make me happy. It makes me content to know that when I am lying in bed, going to sleep that there is still life going on outside and events happening. Instead of resenting the fact that I am not a part of it in that moment, I am at peace because the noises of the train are telling me that there will always be a new adventure out there ready for me to take on. Then I find myself thinking about the people on these trains. I wonder who they are and what they are doing with their lives. Are they traveling to some far off place? Or are they simply going to or coming back from work? Are they lost? Or are they on the right train? Are they at ease in that moment or are they anxious about something? But the most important question, where are they going?
There are so many ways in which we should strive to be more like trains. They are strong, they are cultured, they are well-traveled, they are open-minded, they are welcoming, and they have purpose. They know where they are going. Criss Jami once said, “Of course, in our train of thought, we would all like to think we’re on the right track, or at least the same railroad company as the right track.” It is okay to not know where you are going sometimes. Like Criss said, at least just being on the train of the right railroad company is okay. But just know that trains will always be there to show you the way.