Monday, April 18, 2016

Leaving Home: An Emotional Roller Coaster

4:00am- My father is driving me to the train station.  He speaks softly, giving me advice as we travel down the empty highway.  “Make sure you give us your address when you get there, and watch your back” he says, not taking his eyes off the road.  I nod dutifully, and tell him that I will.  His lectures have become part of a ritual we go through every time I leave home.  As always, I listen closely because I know they come from a place of love.  Eventually, he shifts gears and we talk about sports, but the conversation becomes forced as we get closer to the station.  Eventually it stops completely, and the car is filled with a heavy silence.  This is also part of the ritual.  “Don’t be afraid to come home,” he says.  His voice catches slightly as he talks, and an arrow pierces my heart.  He wants me to stay home, get a corporate job, and leave the road behind. But I can’t. 

     We only get eighty years on this planet, and I don’t want to spend them doing the same thing as everyone else.  Besides, countless people have conquered corporate America.  I want to conquer myself, and I need the road to do that.  I try to tell him this, but the words get caught in my throat.  So I just nod, and say, “I won’t”.  He pulls the car into the Amtrak parking lot, and we both get out of the car.  He hugs me without making eye contact and whispers, “I hope you find what you’re looking for”.  I smile sadly and reply, “I will".  Quickly, I turn and walk towards the train station.  I feel guiltier with every step I take.  The ritual is complete

5:00am- The station is eerily  quiet.  There are lots of people here, but they hardly move and rarely speak.  It feels like someone pressed “pause” on a DVD player, and now the whole world is standing still.  I’m trapped between the home that I’ve left behind, and the new beginning that lies at the end of the tracks.  Is this what purgatory feels like?  Undoubtedly,  there is something sacred about the “in-between” times of life.  Whether it's a bride walking down the aisle, or an astronaut flying into space, people treasure life more once they've let go of the places they've been, and they’re moving towards some place new.

     Maybe that’s why I'd rather sit in a train station than a town house, or why I’m most at ease when I’m one of several anonymous passengers traveling to parts unknown.  I wonder if the people around me feel the way.  Are they excited about what’s waiting for them at the end of their journey, or are they scared?  I guess it doesn’t matter.  The train is going to come regardless.  With this in mind, I sit patiently, and wonder if the train out of purgatory will take me to heaven... or to hell.

9:00am- I wake from a dreamless sleep as the passenger car jolts, and my head slams into the window next to me.  We are heading east, chasing the sun as it rises higher in a cloudless sky.  It would be exhilarating if the sun wasn’t shining directly in my eyes.  But it is, and the curtain on the window is torn, so I can’t block it out.  “Samsara is full of suffering,” I remind myself.  As my annoyance grows I look at the thin Hispanic man sitting beside me.  He's sleeping soundly, perfectly at peace.

10:30am- A trip to the dining car has netted me a bagel, some hot tea, and a yogurt.  I wonder what the monastics of Buddha’s order would think if they could see me now.  They had to make do with whatever was put in their bowls… I get to order off a menu.  I feel spoiled, and grateful that I was born in the 20th century.

11:14am- The young man that was sitting next to me gets off the train is replaced by a woman with short, blonde hair who looks to be in her mid-fifties.  We make small talk as the train slowly leaves the station, and I find out that she's on her way to visit her son.  In the span of 45 minutes she offers me a bottled water, candy, and half of her roast-beef sandwich one by one.  I accept the first but politely refuse the other two offers.  She's being so generous... to a complete stranger.  I smile slightly as a warm, fuzzy feeling grows in my chest.  The world is a beautiful place!

3:00pm-  My train pulls up to the station, and I walk inside.  The farm owner that I'll be working with is standing near the entrance, smiling from ear to ear.  We shake hands, and then words start spilling from her mouth in a volcanic eruption of sound.  She waves her hands excitedly as she speaks, telling me how glad she is that I'm here; and how much work there is to do on the farm.  Her enthusiasm is contagious, and pretty soon my smile matches hers.  Confidently, I pick up my luggage from baggage claim, and walk into the unknown.  

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