The Strangest Kind of Strangers on a Train

The old tale of complete strangers meeting in transit, discovering they have identical problems, and “solving” the problems by trading crimes to eliminate the people they see as the root of their unhappiness, makes for a striking mystery drama, in fiction. Ask Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock fans! But I was reminded recently that we give too little credit to our commonalities as a positive solution to our problems, and end up missing crucial opportunities as a result.

The filmic version takes as its thesis that the two strangers who meet can find not other, or at least no better, solution to the problem of having bad relationships with inconveniently incompatible people than to murder them, and by ‘exchanging’ murders with each other they hope to escape detection by each having no apparent connection to, or a motive for killing, the other’s nemesis.

While this makes for startling and even compelling imagined mystery, it’s horrific if imagined in real terms. Yet we do similar things all the time in this world, don’t we? Because I tend to agree with a particular point of view in general, say, a specific philosophy or political party’s policies, or my country’s traditions, does that mean it’s wise or humane or practical or generous to follow along without question, no matter what my group, party or nation says and does? We mortals are remarkably good at noticing and magnifying our differences, as genuine and large as they may be. But we’re frighteningly weak, in opposing measure, when it comes to recognizing, focusing on, and building upon our true kinship. This, I believe, easily outweighs in both quantity and importance, our separating characteristics. Digital illustration from a photo: Opening Doors

The recent train outing in Sweden that reminded me so pointedly of this also confirmed my belief that it’s an area where youth is wiser than experience. In a railcar where a young father, not a local or a native speaker of the language, was keeping his fifteen-month-old daughter occupied and contented during the trip by helping her practice her tipsy walking, she made her way with his help to where another family, also foreign but not of the same culture as father and daughter, was sitting together. That group was of two adult sisters and their four or five school-age children. The toddler was naturally attracted to the friendly and spirited older children, and as soon as they saw her, they too were enchanted. What followed was perhaps twenty minutes of delighted interaction between them all, with occasional balance aid from Papa and photo-taking by the Mamas. And barely a word was spoken, much less understood by any of the participants, during the entire episode.

The greatest among the many beauties of this endearing one-act was that the conversation essentially began, continued and ended with the kids reaching toward one another with open hands, waving and gesturing and generally putting on an elaborate pantomime together, and above all, giggling and chortling with peals and squeals of ecstatic laughter.

Needless to say, all of us adults in the railcar grinned, giggled, chortled and otherwise became happy kids right along with them. Resistance was an impossibility and a pointless attempt, at that. And isn’t that an excellent lesson for all? Adults are too busy being territorial and fearful and downright feral to remember that the open hand of welcome and sharing is as quickly reciprocated as any gesture, and a smile of greeting and acceptance is contagious beyond any language, age, or cultural barriers. We can nurse our terrors of the unknown as supposed adults, or we can choose to laugh together like children.Digital illustration from a photo: As If in a Mirror

The Other Great Train Robbery

photoThere’s the legendary Great Train Robbery, the otherwise-known Cheddington Mail Van Raid, and that one was the classic sort of train robbery where mean and greedy people stole a big bunch of loot that was traveling by rail. Then there’s the other one, the baby version perhaps, but equally thoroughgoing: the way riding trains stole my heart. The first trip I remember taking by rail was when I was in junior high school and  went to help out a little at my aunt and uncle’s place across the state after the birth of their second child; I got to take the train home all by myself, and I sat up on the second, viewing deck watching the splendid scenery as we all rolled by, and that was it. I was smitten.photoThe marvelous European expedition I was privileged to share with my older sister when I was in college sealed the deal perfectly. Besides being convenient and allowing hands-free and restful travel with the simple ability to bask in the scenery, to rest or read or work, and no traffic or parking worries, train travel delights me with its multitude of stories to tell. It’s full of history and adventures–past, present and future–and the romance of all those tales surrounding me gives me an instant surge of pleasure and hope.photoAll subsequent opportunities to ride the rails have only fed my infatuation. I don’t much care if it’s for a short day jaunt on the subway or a cross-continent push in a sleeper car, I’m nearly always ready to get on board for another train outing. Is that a whistle I hear beckoning me with its come-hither siren song? Make way! I’m headed for the nearest station, and I’ve got my passport burning a hole in my pocket as we speak. All aboard!photo