Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I love to travel by train, but last weekend’s journey did not start out as the relaxing, productive trip I’d been looking forward to. We arrived at the station to find the main parking lot full (which wouldn’t have been a problem if we’d left the house on time). Fortunately, we were able to find a space in the overflow lot, just a stone’s throw away from the main lot. We raced for the station only to discover our train was running an hour late -- not entirely bad since we’d cut our arrival at the station pretty close -- but definitely a harbinger of a journey that would be more stressful than usual.

Once aboard the train, we couldn’t find seats together, so the three of us found seats beside other passengers, biding our time until other travelers disembarked and seats became available. While I’m sure this is something daily commuters have come to expect and tolerate, it’s the first time I’ve come up against it when we’ve used the train as transportation for a weekend trip. 

At 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, the train emptied, freeing up so many seats we each could have had our own and still sat in close proximity to one another. We settled into seats near one another and waited for the changeover from diesel to electric, only to be greeted with a high-pitched, persistent buzzing of some sort -- most likely part of the changeover, but not a side effect I remembered from other trips. Both unnerving and and annoying, it poked at nerves jangled by a late departure, a dearth of seats and an overabundance of one-sided cell phone conversations.

By the time we left Philadelphia, the train was more as I’d remembered it. Empty seats now outnumbered those that were occupied as we rode backwards on our way to New York. Clouds were thick and dusk was settling in, but there was enough light to take in graffiti and junk yards and row homes, blocked out temporarily from time to time by a west-bound train. The scenery made it easy to turn my attention to my laptop and the tasks I’d been both unwilling and unable to accomplish in the absence of my typical train ambiance.

Once we arrived in New York, it was easy to leave all of those small inconveniences behind. Twenty-six hours in Manhattan lay ahead, promising a change of scenery and a chance to catch up with old friends. And once we settled into seats (together) for the trip home on Sunday night, none of those details mattered. (We were much more frustrated that we’d missed the chance to meet Bryan Cranston. But that’s another blog). Once again, the train had brought us to New York for a trip that was worth a few minor inconveniences (including my own foolish choice of a seat without a tray table for the return trip). 

Time away is a funny thing. There are so many details we can choose to focus on: the inconveniences, the cost, the absence of the day-to-day routines that give our life a shape. But to fail to pay attention to the opportunities is to waste the trip. When we focus on the empty space in a half-full glass, it becomes impossible to recognize that what we have in our hands is sufficient.

As I get older, I realize that I have plenty of things -- too many, in fact. A smart friend of mine recently said, “We spend the first half of our lives accumulating things to make our lives easier and the second half our lives getting rid of things to make our lives easier.” I think that part of what makes this change not only easier, but more desirable as well is the recognition of the fact that things don’t create memories. People do. Experiences do. 

And stepping outside our comfort zone to grab hold of adventures with the people we love fills the glass to overflowing.

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