Today I rode into town on the train. I don’t remember if it was the red line or the blue line. No matter, they both take me to my destination. I boarded at Sunset Station, roughly 7am, as I do every morning. The bright sky lit up the interior of the train revealing much more detail than I’m used to. I find no sitting room most mornings so it’s no surprise that I found myself standing, leaning against the bike rack. Instantly I tuned to a booming voice and felt my irritation rise quickly. I thoroughly dislike when others ruin my 20 minute transit ride to hold a phone conversation.
“Cause’ you know brotha’ the only thing worse than dying on the outside is dying on the inside.”
I’ve never taken to what some might call the strong presence of a preacher and his sermons. And I certainly didn’t appreciate it now.
A woman stood just two feet in front of me. I took her in as we shared a brief smile. She was probably in her early 50’s, with long naturally greying hair and a healthy glow in her face, free of makeup. A long yellow jacket draped her, fit for rain, and a large grey hoody underneath. She stood straight and tall unafraid of eye contact as she returned my smile. Instantly I began to wonder how she could stand listening to this booming spiritual authoritarian. My quiet early morning pep talk about my good intentions for the day went out the window. I just couldn’t take it.
I dropped my bag a little too quickly, purposefully showing my impatience with the noise. I dug for my headphones, plugged them in and turned my classical music all the way up. I straightened to give the woman a knowing smile. She returned it with one that was noticeably innocent. I’ll admit that a small part of me wanted her to agree.
“We suffer together sister!”
I was given no assurance.
I opened my book and began to highlight, wobbling back and forth. We were 10 minutes in. Just through the tunnel. The preacher now carried loud conversation with the woman next to him. She didn’t say a word just a brief head nod here and there. I’m quite sure she didn’t even speak English. I let out an exasperated breath. Was he raised with no manners? I bet he wants to feel excepted, with his loud notions about god, spirituality, and the meaning of life. He probably takes out his phone and calls someone every time he’s on the train so he can feel as though he has the upper hand, as though he’s extraordinarily special.
Then someone catches my eye. My old professor from art school. He was one of my favorites. He helped me understand that as artist the work we create is interconnected. That it’s just as important to understand world economics and politics as it is to understand art. A great teacher.
With a brief smile I move past the woman and poke at his arm to get his attention. 20 seconds later we’ve promised another unplanned sighting and coffee if time allows before he leaves the train.
I find my way back in front of the woman, greeted by her smile.
“He was an old professor, one of the best I had.”
Figures that she choose this moment to give me the knowing look I’d wanted from her at the beginning of the trip.
“You’ll see him again. Everything happens for a reason. You never know what may come of it, just know that it isn’t coincidence.”
I don’t judge. I’m almost to my stop so if this conversation takes us into the mystical realm than it will be cut short just in time. You see, I don’t believe much in the idea of ‘decided fates’. I answer anyways.
“That would be nice.” I admit, “I’m still waiting for my happy accident”.
“Oh yes”, she says gently, “you’ll find what you’re looking for. There is a reason for everything.”
“Did you find what you were looking for?” I asked, quite curious now.
“Yes, i’m a hospice worker.”
I couldn’t hide my surprise. Maybe it’s because I contemplate life, death, and the in-between constantly that I find hospice workers, those so close to death on a daily basis, to have untapped knowledge about a reality that the majority of the population denies. I have so many questions. So many things I want to ask her. I think to give her my card so we can meet up but am disappointed when I realize the doors of the train have opened at my stop. My head whips from the door back to the woman.
“I’m so sorry, this is me” I speak quickly backing toward the doors. “I’ve really enjoyed this.” I say in total honesty.
“Me too” she says, the corners of her mouth curving once again.
I pivot quickly to rush from the train and my eye stills on the preacher’s empty seat.
I step from the train saddened that I didn’t notice the man leave.
How dare I judge him.