Written by Naomi Franco
The small tremors coming from the train car keep me awake. No matter how many times I lean my head back, I become jolted into a state of consciousness. I’m not alone in my predicament. The old woman across from me has been entranced by her window view since boarding. Never looking away from the sights in front of her, almost as though she’s scared of never seeing them again. I don’t blame her for staring. The view from the train is one many take for granted.
A myriad of colors dance before the train as the wind from the autumn breeze blows the leaves through the air. The fields of sunflowers sway before the speeding train. Even the stand-still lake presents the majestic form of life through its glistening reflection of the mid-day sun. Though they may seem like passing moments of life, only a handful of people take notice of the beauty within these scenes.
I still have a ways to go before my destination is reached. As I battle my state of boredom and restlessness, I try to remind myself what the train is moving towards. Back home. Back to my own bed. Back to work. Back to confusion…back to stress. The longer I sit the more thankful I become for my long journey. I start to remember the fear associated with home. The fear that comes from my ever-growing responsibilities. When did they start? Why won’t they stop? Why can’t I seem to ever do anything correctly?
A sudden stop of the train brings me out of my stressed state. Over the loudspeaker, the conductor explains a momentary stop brought upon by a minor break in the track up ahead. A reroute will be shortly scheduled and a new route will be mapped out once the train reaches the nearest station. As the train makes its way to the station I see my responsibilities start to disappear. No, not disappeared but masked. For a few short moments, I am able to pretend as if they no longer exist. As we near the station I see the old woman become tense. Her content demeanor is no longer present as it is replaced by an anxious state.
While the tracks are getting fixed the conductor has instructed us to stay near the platform. Slowly I make my way to the nearest kiosk. After buying two bottles of water, I make my way back over to the benches near the train. The old woman is sitting on the bench nearest to the windows. As I get closer to her, I can see that while she looks content, her fidgeting fingers reveal her secret anxiety. Once I reach the bench, I ask if I may sit down next to her. A small head nod indicated her approval of my presence.
“Would you like some water? I noticed you haven’t moved from here since getting off the train.” After a brief moment, she nods again and accepts the bottle of hand from my hands. “Where are you headed, if you don’t mind me asking?” I ask in an attempt to make conversation.
“Oh. That sounds … nice.” For a moment I see her look at me as though she’s trying to understand who I am by reading my eyes.
“And you? Where are you going?” She asks with a sense of curiosity.
“Also home. Well more like back to work really,” I say with an awkward chuckle. “What I mean is that once I get home I need to get back to work. You see, I’m still in school and have classes I need to get back to-though, if I’m being honest, this situation with the train is kind of a blessing in disguise. The longer I stay here I can forget about the workload waiting for me back home. Just thinking about it makes me upset. Not the amount of work itself but what it means. I don’t even know what I’m writing down half the time, and then I start to question if I’m even studying the right major. And then I…Oh my… I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to say all of that. I tend to babble when I get nervous. And I’m doing it again … I’m sorry.” I can feel the blush of embarrassment plaguing my face. I try to look away in order to save myself from the embarrassment I will surely feel if I turn to look at her face. A small chuckle brings me back to the present. I see her take a sip from the bottle and then gesture to me to look outside. I watch as her frail finger points out toward the train tracks.
“Once they fix those tracks, I’ll go home. I’ll also go back to a stressful home. You see, my son and my granddaughter are waiting for me at home. I love them dearly but sometimes it feels like too much. There are moments when I question how my life ended up the way it did or how I’m scared I’m not helping them enough. But then I hear my granddaughter’s laugh and I’m reminded why I keep trying.” The fidgeting of her fingers stops at the mention of her granddaughter. Her stature becomes more relaxed and confident.
As I begin to digest what she had just said, I feel a pain in my chest; a dread of panic being the cause. My world becomes too big and I start to question my own abilities. I come to realize that there are infinite routes in life, but not enough time.
The woman must have understood my fear through my silence, as she states, “It’s ok to be scared. No one really knows what they’re doing. The important thing is that we try.”
“But what if I’m scared to fail? I feel like everything I do is meant to be building up towards something but I never feel like I reach it.” I say.
The old woman takes a moment to respond. The indents on her forehead reveal a focused concentration. She inhales deeply before she says “Embrace your failures. They are what make you human. Nothing is ever going to be perfect and sometimes we work so hard for something that it isn’t meant to work out. The only thing you need to worry about is your happiness. Surround yourself with what makes you happy. It doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else as long as it makes you feel fulfilled. And the only way you are ever going to learn is by taking that leap. Right now, for you, that leap is back home.”
Just as she finished her sentence, the conductor could be heard over the loudspeaker. A new route had been decided and the train was to leave the station in 15 minutes. After the announcement, I turn to look at the old woman and see her rising from her seat and gesture for me to follow her back to the train. As we make our way back to our respective seats she turns back to take a final look at me.
“Thank you for the water dear. I’m sure you’re going to make so many people proud.” She says with a smile on her face. Slowly she makes her way back to her seat, sitting near the window ready to admire the beauty that is life.