Almost 60 hours on a train. Well, 60 hours of traveling… I had two layovers totaling about eight hours. Do the math and you learn that from Saturday morning to Monday evening I was on the train for over 50 hours. Whoopee.
There are a number of reasons why trains are the best form of travel. The reason why I first started traveling by train is that trains are the most environmentally friendly mode of transport. Then I realized how awesome it is to have to stay awake while traveling, versus the anxiety-ridden hours of driving that always put me to sleep. Trains are also quite safe. Think about it: you’re not going to crash, and if something goes wrong with the train the conductors can stop and fix it or, at the very least, you won’t be falling thousands of feet out of the sky.
The romantic reasons why everyone should love train travel are also numerous. Sight-seeing is rather magnificent. Of course, you can see the same things in a car, but on a train you just simply have more time to look out the window. Also, the people you can meet makes any length of train travel worth it, from the crew to fellow passengers. More on that in a bit. And lastly, this particular leg of my trip I have discovered a new reason to love trains: private rooms. “Room” may be an overstatement, so I’ve been using the word “compartment.” Bottom line is that its private and far more comfortable than coach, especially when you’re trying to sleep. You can actually lie down in a room. Who knew. They may be more expensive than a coach seat but if you’re on the train for as long as I am it’s totally worth it, mostly because all your meals, as well as coffee and snacks from your car, are already included in the price.
Now let me talk about the people. On my way to Chicago from D.C. (the first layover was in D.C., from Richmond, and the second was in Chicago) I had the opportunity to sit next to a Pentecostal pastor. The really cool part about that is that he was supposed to sit somewhere else, but traded with an elderly woman because she clearly had misgivings about sitting next to a young male for hours upon hours. God at work? For me, it’s hard to believe otherwise. It’s especially hard to believe otherwise when I consider that my car to Chicago also included a group of about ten mission workers around my age and a separate group of Catholic Workers. Of the 60 folks in the car, almost half could profess some form of a religious vocation. With the various struggles that I’ve been going through spiritually the past few years, there’s no question that God is trying to tell me that I am not alone, even when I try to run away to Arizona and California.
I didn’t get much of a chance to introduce myself to the other vocationally religious travelers because the pastor, Ed, and I talked for almost the entire time we were awake. The rest of the time I was reading, which is of the utmost importance. Ed and I talked about a whole range of things but what most touched me were the conversations about my life, what I’m doing traveling out West, and why I decided not to be a pastor. Almost immediately Ed asked if I planned on being a pastor. This isn’t the first time a total stranger, without much of a tip-off or sometimes no knowledge of me whatsoever, has asked if I’m going to be a minister. But it has been a few years, so forgive me if I had thought those days were over. A few hours of conversation and Ed stated forthrightly, “You are called to be a minister. Don’t run away. Don’t run away from your convictions.” That last part he threw in because we talked about some of my theological struggles—he, apparently, as a young man was much like me, wanting to experience the world, if you know what I mean, and trying to stretch faith and belief to match desire rather than God’s being. His words couldn’t have been more timely, either, since I had just come from spending a bit more than a week with my licensed pastor friend Rob. Maybe ordination isn’t for me, but what’s stopping me from being a licensed pastor…?
Really, in the span of a few hours I felt like I had gained some serious clarity on where I’m heading in life and where God is in the midst of that life. I can’t say that I’ve already internalized all that Ed and I discussed nor can I say that I’m going to instantly jump into applying to licensing school. In fact, I can’t even say that I suddenly believe or trust in God any more than I did before. All I can say right now is that God is clearly trying to push me to be who I am most content and gifted to be. Indeed, if I trace God’s fingerprints I can go back to my time with Rob and see that when he asked me to give a testimony to a Bible study class, God was essentially saying, “Look back and see that I have been here throughout your life, even if you have chosen to doubt.”
All this is important because I am a doubter, I am a thinker. That’s my best quality and my greatest gift from God and to anyone I may come across. But that doesn’t mean that I need to forsake belief in God entirely. Ultimately, despite my rather large ego, my writing will improve greatly if I can believe that there’s some greater purpose to it. Certainly I do already believe that people will benefit from reading or hearing what I have to say, but if I can believe that God will nurture the spirit of those listening to me and that my gifts are given by God, or at least partially so, then I will not run into so many moments of total and destructive lethargy. Though I am a melancholy spirit I write best and most productively when life has a positive flavor to it.
My trip on the train has indeed been an experience. And I’m only halfway through the month of vacationing.