Last Call

Scenes unroll this morning like a spool of ribbon dropped to the floor. Verdant fields. The shadow of mountains. Small worn-out houses with fenced yards abutting the tracks. Mile after mile of groves neatly aligned. Vineyards stretching like corduroy as far as the eye can see. The shabby side of businesses and towns.

Raindrops crawl sideways across the windows as I watch it all. I am doing something I’ve wanted to do since I was a child — traveling by train.

I don’t know when passenger trains ceased to run in South Dakota, but they were a thing of the past by the time I started school. However, according to reports from older students, my first grade teacher always arranged a field trip for her class — students rode to the neighboring town in the caboose of one of the freight trains that still traversed the state. All year I waited to climb aboard. And then the school year ended and I hadn’t had the adventure for which I longed.

Eventually, that disappointment faded, as childhood experiences do. I even forgot until my dad’s sister brought her family to visit. Part of their journey from Oregon to South Dakota had been made by train. At that point in my life, the longest trip I had made was to a music camp my freshman year in high school — 165 miles. My parents had taken me by car, and it was a one-time experience. I was wonderstruck by the idea of crossing the country by train, and fantasized about places I would go.

But I was not raised to follow the allure of the road. I was raised to believe opportunities were gifts given to others, to believe that I needed to learn how to be content with what I had instead of longing for more. Since my mother died more than 40 years ago and my dad wasn’t inclined to talk about the decisions he made as a parent, I don’t know why I was taught to limit my dreams rather than to pursue them. I just know it created in me a dissonant dichotomy.

On one hand, my world became small; I took advantage of opportunities that presented themselves rather than explored paths that excited my imagination. On the other hand, I was plagued with an inner restlessness; I rarely stuck with a job more than three or four years, and have moved more often than I care to remember. Only my inner journey has been unencumbered by artificial barriers. I’ve studied human development and spiritual development and shied away from nothing.

As I sit here now though, watching the world go by, watching passengers come and go, I find myself wondering if it’s not time to explore the final frontier — not space, but the wonderful world in which I live. I wonder if it’s not time to see how I might be shaped by a broader range of experiences.
I find myself wondering if this morning’s cry of “All aboard” might not become one of many I hear in my lifetime.

I wonder.