I have always liked trains. I like to be able to sit and watch out big windows as the scenery, both urban and rural, passes by. I like the rocking movement and the click clack of wheels going along the tracks. There is comfort in hearing the sound of a train, including its whistle at night.
When I attended Princeton Theological Seminary, I would ride the train from Princeton, N.J. into New York, N.Y. on the Amtrak Metro liner. I have rode the same train years ago from New York, N.Y. to Amherst, Ma when I attended a Social Work training event at Smith College in neighboring Northhampton, Ma. I would also ride the Metra North Line train when I lived in Waukegan, Il and worked in Chicago, Il
Trains can evoke an earlier, perhaps romantic, less frenzied time. On a train, you can have a good conversation with someone. You can sit in a big comfortable seat, charge your cell phone while you are traveling through the bucolic summer landscape of Western Massachusetts while reading Emerson. You can have a drink at the bar.
This description stands in stark contrast to recent experience of a homeless man who was taking the train from New York, N.Y to his brother’s house in Atco, N.J.
“They don’t know the real me,” Torres said.
In the weeks before that train ride, Torres had bounced between Atlantic City and Manhattan. He slept in homeless shelters and beneath bridges. In both cities, he said, he was mugged and robbed. The shelter in New York didn’t have enough room for him; so on Thursday, he decided to go someplace that felt like home.
“It’s been rough,” Torres said. “There were a lot of nights where I laid under the bridge and cried.”
He said he phoned another brother for help, and his sibling sent Torres money for a train ticket.
On the New Jersey Transit train out of Penn Station, Torres said he felt the weight of a couple of tough weeks, the latest in a hard life. He was hungry. He hadn’t had a chance to shower, and he hadn’t shaved in days.
On the train, Torres said, “I felt dirty.”
He wanted to look good for his brother’s family, he said. He wanted to look “presentable.” That impulse, a few strokes of the razor and a flick of shaving cream onto the floor, were enough to vault Torres into Internet infamy.”
The mockery that this man engendered makes me want to consider what train are these people on? Are they entitled ?, are they desperate to see and make fun of people who they consider to be less than respectable?
For that matter, what about all of those celebrities and others who boast about joining “the Mile-High club “engaging in interesting activities in airplane lavatories at high altitudes?
No one seems to be making a fuss about them.
The old gospel hymn references “ this train is bound for glory “. Maybe some of the riders of the New Jersey Transit train bound for Atco, N.J. should have remembered this sentiment.
We are all travelers in this life. The question remains who are we as pilgrims, and what kind of pilgrimage do we want to experience?
It’s up to us.
May we choose charity and compassion and not belittlement and derision.
May it be so.