Many years ago while working with families of those with HIV/AIDS, a patient's sibling read a story during a group held to celebrate the holidays. Although there are many versions of this story and the true author is unknown, on this Thanksgiving Day 2020, I would like to share it with you.
Life is like a train ride. At birth, we board the train and meet our parents, and we believe they will always travel by our side. But our train will slow down and stop at a station not of our choosing, and there, our parents will step down from the train, as their journey is over and now we must go it alone. As we pull out from this unscheduled stop and wave our final goodbyes, we live on with the memories of their love, affection, friendship, guidance -- and their ever presence.
As we travel on, other people will board the train; and they will be significant, like our siblings, friends, children, and even the love of our life. And over time, others will also step down -- some temporarily, others permanently -- leaving a hole that can never be filled. Along the way, those with us will encounter what we all encounter -- many upsets, tears, and losses on their journey. Others still, will linger on to offer a helping hand to anyone in need. Some on this ride will consider their journey to be a jaunty tour. They will just go merrily along.
There will be a few people on the train who will leave an everlasting impression when they get off. Others will get on and get off the train so quickly, they will scarcely leave a sign that they ever traveled along with you or ever crossed your path. And as such, we may not appreciate what they gave us in life until several stops later and we are unable to thank them for the gifts they gave us.
We will sometimes be upset that some passengers, who we love, will choose to sit in another compartment and leave us to travel on our own. Then again, there’s nothing that says we can’t seek them out anyway. Nevertheless, once sought out and found, we may not even be able to sit next to them because that seat will already be taken. But rather than be upset and filled with resentment, we should be overjoyed that they have found a companion who will make their journey enjoyable. Because in the end, everyone’s journey somehow becomes similar -- filled with hopes, dreams, challenges, setbacks, and goodbyes.
So, we must strive to make the best of it… no matter what. We must constantly seek to understand our travel companions and look for the best in everyone, remembering that at any moment during our journey, any one of those on this ride can have a weak moment and be in need of our help.
If it is us who will vacillate or hesitate, even trip… hopefully we can count on someone being there to be supportive and understanding.
The bigger mystery of our journey is that we don’t know when our last stop will come. Neither do we know when our travel companions will make their last stop. Not even those sitting in the seat next to us.
For most of us, this final stop will be sad, but alas, we all must get off the train. Our separation from all those friends and acquaintances we made during the journey will be painful. Leaving all those we are close to will be hard. But then again, faith makes us certain that one day we'll get to the main station only to meet up with everyone else once again. They’ll all be carrying their baggage… most of which they didn’t have when they first got on this train.
We will be overjoyed to see them again. We will also be glad to have contributed to that baggage… and to have enriched their lives, just as much as they will have contributed to our own baggage and enriched our life.
We’re all on this train ride together. Let's not be upset by the bumps and detours along the way but grateful for those wonderful sights, relationships, and experiences we've enjoyed along the way, no matter how brief they might have been. So on this Thanksgiving Day, we should all try to make the ride as pleasant and memorable as we can, right up until we each make the final stop and leave the train for the last time.