Lying awake and listening to the train whistle in the early morning hours makes me want to get ready for a trip. It also reminds me of the messages people share as their lives ebb and they prepare for their final journey.
Edna, an elderly woman with some dementia, repeatedly asked for the car keys to get home, and her loving daughter understood the message. She patted her hand, and let her know she could go whenever she was ready. I listened to Jack, an old hiker and woodsman, ask about his dog and ready himself for a hunting expedition. Little Jamie was planning a new trip on his flying pirate ship, and always winning the battles along the way. Bob, who had built planes for a hobby and flown into his eighth decade, talked incessantly about the skies’ condition and whether it was safe to fly.
“I have to go, I have to go”, and no one asked where, when Viola repeated this mantra in the last few days of her life. We knew, in the right moment, she would indeed go.
Since I was very young, hearing a train whistle has sent a little thrill within me, and I visualized arriving at some unknown destination. The anticipation of an adventure was hard to contain; though still in my bed I had these images of train hoppers going to other places. My grandparents lived in a house nearly as old as they were during my childhood years, and the train track cutting the town in half was behind Grandpa’s garden, not many yards from the back door of the house. The train whistle is an imbedded memory I have of their home, more than the colors on the walls or the rickety old stairway leading to the bedrooms.
How I loved being wakened by that mournful keening sound in the early morning before the light had fully changed things from darkness, and the trees stood like faded grey monoliths outside my dormer window. For me, the train was an omen of future pursuits and bold undertakings.
People have expressed to me in many ways their anticipation of dying, many with dread and avoidance, but some with expectation and even enthusiasm. As they travel the great
chasm from this life through their death, the journey is described much like the ones they travelled during this lifetime, by boat and plane and car and train…and sometimes we who watch can see the glimmer and sparkle of suspense, and yes, even excitement, as they board the train.
“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” Helen Keller