So a few months ago I wrote a short story about the significance of time in our lives and I thought it’d be a good idea to share this on my blog.
People always told me that in your last few moments on this earth, your thoughts go to important times in your life, both happy and sad memories that meant something to you in some way or another. Now for most people this would probably be that fantastically magical Christmas they had that one year or when they got married or the birth of their children or even the death of a loved one, but for me it isn’t that simple. Life rarely did exactly what it was supposed to when it came to me and this was no exception.
As I lay there hooked up to all those machines, the sound of heart monitors and respirators whirring in my ears, my mind began to drift. I closed my eyes and began to remember a train ride I took some twenty odd years ago.
The date was February 4th, a date I only remember because it was the day before my Aunt Sarah’s birthday and the reason I was on the train in the first place. As far as I can remember it was a typically boring day weather wise, slight windy, cloudy sky, patches of drizzle, nothing special by any stretch of the imagination. I was taking the train from my home in Chicago down to Sarah’s house in Des Moines so I could surprise her for her birthday, so I boarded the train and searched for a seat. It was fairly quiet that morning and there were lots of empty seats. Despite the rain outside I wanted to sit near a window because I loved the view, so I found an empty tabled booth and plonked myself down next to the window. A few minutes later we were off.
Before long we came to the first stop and after a minute or so of passengers getting on an off a man in a light grey suit and power-blue tie walked over, sat down opposite me, smiled and began to look out the window. After several minutes he turned to me and said something, something which I can’t even remember now, then he introduced himself as Warner Thomas and smiled. I introduced myself back and before long we were chit-chatting about everything and nothing. He told me all about how he was an executive VP of a local coach hire company and that he was heading to Wyanet to secure a business deal he’s been working on for weeks. He then began explaining to me the problems he faced from fierce competition and how everyday was exciting because of it.
I spoke of my Aunt’s birthday and how I was hoping to surprise her and how my boss had given me a few extra days off to spend with the family. I’d always liked my boss, he was the one who gave me a shot when I was first starting out as a journalist, the one who stuck his neck out just to give me a shot, I owed him a lot. Before long the train began to slow. Warner told me this was his stop, picked up his briefcase, smiled and made his way to the end of the carriage. I remember he had a slightly crooked smile but it seemed to work for him.
Within a few minutes the train had stopped, more passengers had gotten on and off and we were off once again. This time sat across from me was a young girl. She must have been about seventeen or eighteen judging by her faux ironic t-shirt and her nonchalant hair style. She had bright pink headphones in her ears which blasted out some form of indie rock band loud enough for even me to hear and sat staring at her phone, I assume texting or on some form of social media app. She didn’t speak, she didn’t even look up, she just stared indefinitely at her phone head slightly bobbing to the music.
When the next stop came, she glanced through the window to confirm she was at the right stop, got up and made her way to the exit, I’d never know her name. Not many people got on at the next stop, some remote town in the middle of nowhere. As the train pulled away again I sat there staring out the window, the train gently swaying to and fro on the tracks, the rain cascading down the window almost diagonally with the speed of the train, and I just let my mind wander.
I must have drifted off for quite some time because when I opened my eyes I was greeted by the smiling face of a wonderfully colourful Indian man who I later learned was called Rajesh. He wore bright clothing in almost every colour imaginable with a fairly long beard and seemed extremely happy to see me awake. He quickly introduced himself and began to explain that at first he mistook me for an actor he’d seen in a movie once but wasn’t in the least bit disappointed when he discovered I wasn’t, if anything it seemed he wanted to speak to me even more.
After explaining my attendance upon the train and a little more about myself, which Rajesh was all too eager to learn, I asked him to tell me his story. It turned out he was fairly new to the country having moved here from Goa only two months ago and despite having impeccable English skills and a very clear and understandable accent, had not stepped foot out of India until very recently. He explained that he was a doctor and had been offered a job working as an Oncologist at a hospital in Iowa City which he was due to start in three days. He was very excited about it.
There was something about Rajesh I really liked. I don’t know whether it was his overwhelming enthusiasm for life, his brightly coloured attire or even the playfulness of his voice but something about him stuck with me for a long time. As the train neared his station he looked through the window with a smile so bright and happy it was almost hard to believe and let out a small noise of excitement. He stood up to gather his bags from the overhead compartment, made sure his outfit was straight and then turned to me. He reached out and shook my hand and turned towards the exit. Just before he began to move he paused, turned his head towards me, smiled and wished me a happy life, and just like that, he was gone.
It was several stops before anyone sat down in front of me again, and in that time I couldn’t help think about what Rajesh had said, how someone who I’d known for a mere few hours had brightened my seemingly dull afternoon in a way I couldn’t have imagined.
I was getting hungry to so I opened my bag, pulled out the tuna sandwich I’d made myself earlier and began to eat. It was during a particularly large mouthful of sandwich when a voice next to me asked, “Mind if we sit here?”
I gulped the hunk of sandwich down fast as I turned to see who had spoken, I looked up to see a couple staring down at me with hopeful yet polite eyes. I, of course, insisted that they sit and immediately put away what was left of my sandwich. They were a fairly young couple, perhaps late twenty’s, the woman seemed quite small with mousy brown hair while the man appeared rather tall with short blonde hair, I could only see a wedding ring on the woman’s hand but I quickly assumed they were married.
It wasn’t long before we were talking about long train journeys and the terrible weather and I soon learned that their names were John and Michelle, he worked as a car salesman for a large branch in Omaha and she was a high school English teacher, quite the perfect couple from what I could see. Michelle and I talked mostly about the books I’d read recently whilst John checked his emails on his iPad. Michelle began telling me all about the new curriculum at her school and how she loved teaching Mark Twain to her class even though none of them seemed to care.
Soon I began to notice we were nearing Des Moines and so I started to gather my bags and stood up. I said goodbye to both John and Michelle and made my way towards the carriage doors. As we pulled into the station I saw my Uncle Paul stood on the platform waiting for me, being in on the surprise he had offered to pick me up from the station. I got off the train, gave Paul a hug and made my way to his car.
As I lay there in my bed, my eyes still closed, I started thinking about that train journey. It struck me as odd that my last dying thoughts should be off that and it wasn’t before long that I started asking myself why? I mean, if we’re supposed to experience memories of significant moments in our lives, why is it that mine should be of a seemingly average train ride? What was it about that journey that made it in some way significant?
But then I started wondering, what is it about any moment of our lives that dictates that they should be significant? In a way, aren’t all moments of our day to day life significant? After all, every moment we are alive shapes us into the people we are today, without those seemingly unimportant aspects of our lives, would we still be who we are right now?
I thought back to that train journey and all the people I met. Warner in his well pressed business suit, the teenage girl with messy hair who never once looked up from her phone, Dr Rajesh and his amazing view on the world around him and of course John and Michelle who seemed so perfect, and I can’t help but think if I’d still be the person I am today if it weren’t for them? And then I wondered, is any moment truly insignificant?