Strangers on a Train.

You may not remember me, but I will always remember you.

All my life it’s been walking, buses, trains, what have you. Most of the time two hours a day or more to get to and from school for about a decade and a half. But having a passenger like you seated alongside me definitely was the most memorable for all the most humbling and heart provoking reasons.

It was the usual quick shuffle up and on to the train I’d taken the past four years to get to university. Finally on my way home after one of my final weeks of class I thought I’d retire to my usual aisle seat and flick on some tunes. Maybe watch the beautiful forests and farmer fields zoom by my window. Maybe take a long assessment of the back of my eyelids until the announcement that “we’ve arrived” comes through the intercom to wake me up, collect my things, and do the shuffle back off.

I had just found my seat and was juggling stuff into the overhead compartment when you tentatively cleared your throat and apologetically informed me that you may have to get past me to the aisle part way through our journey. I assured you that’d be no problem, sir, don’t worry about it. You nodded quickly and apologized for the inconvenience and returned to the window. I noticed in my peripheral, now more obviously because you’d introduced yourself, that ever since entering my line of vision you seemed to never sit quite still.

A shoulder tap again. Saying a quick prayer for an awareness of His heart for you, I settled into my seat, looked out the window at the beautiful forests and fields like always, and waited.

“I’m so sorry to bug you. I don’t really remember if I told you or not because I’m feeling out of sorts right now but did I mention that I might need to get by you?”

I assured you that you had, and that again, it would be no problem.

You apologized again, and turned to look out the window, shuffling your feet around.

Again I waited.

“I’m sorry, maybe you don’t like to talk. I don’t want to bug you, just are you going to school where you got on? You don’t have to answer.”

Stepping around the apology, I confirmed that yes, I did. Psychology. And then inevitably followed some ambigious mention of how I never really felt cut out for the program or university in general. And how it had been a very long haul with very little if anything to show for it or to feel proud of.

You mentioned how you had sometimes needed what the studies and psychologists in your life had to offer. To make you better and to understand some hard things. To help you through things. How it was a helpful field. And how on the really bad days, you would remind yourself how lucky you were for having a family who supported you and your professional arts career. You stopped halfway and apologized for taking up my time with your banter. How we had never met and here you were discussing all this stuff that I might not want to. How I could listen to music or read instead of talk to you. I waited, and then asked you more about your career and the journey to it. You said how lucky you were after depicting the journey for me. You said it again and again. How lucky you were. Most times it sounded in a way like you were saying it to yourself rather than to me, trying to convince yourself. You said it was the thing that made you feel the most alive, and kept you that way.

We talked a little more about your passion for your career. Honestly, I was impressed to say the very least. I talked about how I regretted not really being able to pursue art. How I wished I had fought more for it, and how I felt especially burdened now that I had wasted four years in something I barely felt proud of. But I said how it made me really appreciate art now when I was able to partake. How I appreciated it so much more than I ever had because it was such an uphill battle to follow and pursue and cultivate passions.

We talked music. We talked poetry. That’s when you pulled your well loved and definitely worn copy of Robert Service from the seat pocket in front of you. You were about to show me a poem when again, your energy and agitation overwhelmed you to another apology of being the silly stranger who wouldn’t shut up. You apologized and said how I didn’t have to pretend to be interested. That you had had seat partners in the past that plain just told you to shut up, some who had kind of nodded half hearted affirmation to be polite and not be abruptly dismissive. Some who had just thrown music on and shut you out completely. And, I waited. And listened.

I asked you what your favourite poem was. You snapped back out of your agitated state and excitedly flipped through the pages. It was so refreshing to see someone so excited about poetry and so personally attached as well. So inspired by art of people past. I asked you if you’d been to plays. You said you hadn’t really been able with your schedule. I said if you ever got a chance, there was a beautiful place in the city where you could sit in a forested amphitheater, picnic, and then enjoy a night of Shakespeare. You excitedly mentioned some of his pieces that most inspired you. How the rhythms of poetry were so soothing to you in times of agitation. How fascinating — and then you relapsed. You couldn’t find the word and it bothered you. Your already intermittent twitching turned into tapping your forehead, emphatic gesturing with your hands, trying with all your might to physically summon the word that evaded your memory. You stuttered but couldn’t find the word, becoming increasingly more flustered by the moment. You started to berate yourself for how could you be so stupid for not remembering.

Seeing your distress, I offered, “iambic pentameter?”

“YES! That’s it! Thank you, I can’t believe I couldn’t remember that.” I smiled and asked if I could read your copy of Robert Service. You excitedly obliged and handed it to me.

It’s about that time you pulled out a copy of King Lear, and we read quietly side by side, the white noise of the train on the tracks our background soundtrack. Sometimes you’d pipe up and mention another poem. And then apologize because you didn’t want to interrupt my reading. I chuckled, asked which one it was. Told you I had the rest of the train ride, and that I’d read it next.

And we read. And for the first time all trip, you seemed peaceful beside me. Quietly, and a little bashfully, you commented how you’d never had a seat partner as attentive or kind as me.

I know you couldn’t know. I know you couldn’t know that for always as a young girl and even still I struggled so hard to convey myself to peers. I know you couldn’t know that all my life I have loved peers intensely but struggled so hard to show them and convey it for fear of them not reciprocating, for fear of coming off intense, or for fear of flat out rejection. I know you couldn’t know how I had felt like such an inconvenience to people around me. How when I was bullied I would be told to shut up, be “politely” dismissed,  have people shut me out. I know you couldn’t know that from the moment I met you to the time I was sitting here now trying to hide choking on my thank you to your compliment, that I was seeing a whole lot of hurting and broken me in you. I was trying to not show tears because I realized that Jesus had enabled me somehow without me fully being aware to be the person to you that I had needed for quite some time. Good LORD Almighty.

I could basically hear the lies and belittling internal dialogue that you’d been subjected to for decades. I knew it way too well myself. We were very much kindred spirits in our woes. Though the specifics were vastly different, the struggle was the same.

And you couldn’t have known, but I knew that He loved you. I knew that the LORD marvelled at you, loved you all the way through your existence and before when He was making you. And then I realized that the way I was awestruck, fascinated, inspired, and in marvel of you despite your hardships, that that’s how He viewed me through my years of muck and mire.

good heavens.

That just about did me in. Seeing in real time how the LORD sees us despite our junk, shortcomings, broken parts, shameful parts, troubling parts. Despite our years of habit. Despite years of entrenched lies. Despite years of illness and struggle.

If you knew. God, if only you knew that it was ME who was so grateful for YOU being placed in my life.

That it was me in awe of you despite all obstacles you faced that you felt prevented you from being okay. Despite the things you’ve lost or felt like you compromised.

I just. Damn.

Seeing how the LORD loves people and that He loves me just as much has wrecked my life.

I can’t help but live a totally different life from the one I used to after knowing personally that kind of love. The way I see things including myself, other people, my struggles, my triumphs, my relationships.. you name it.

All different because of how He’s loved me. All so much more hopeful and beautiful because of how He’s loved me. DESPITE myself. Because I haven’t loved myself despite my best efforts. Some days, it’s really freaking hard to. But He’s right in there with me helping me through that. And I know that I’m loved at my worst even when I’m tapping out. Isn’t that what any of us ever wanted and needed? Someone to love us beyond whatever we could imagine, regardless or circumstance or trial?

Well that’s Jesus. That’s Him. That’s my whole hearted Father, Saviour, Friend.

Never have I stepped off a train feeling like I just came out of a divine appointment. But man, if ever, that was definitely it.

You may have thought I was a God-sent, but God sure sent Himself for you and me in His ongoing love and pursuit of us both and just, whoa. How He loves.

 

 

 

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