A Lifetime on the Train

[This is not particularly Aikido-related, but I wrote it on a 20-hour train trip on the way to an Aikido seminar this past weekend. Since I posted it on GrabMyWrist.com I figured I should share it here, too. I’ll be compiling some brief posts and quotes from the weekend into a single post here later today, too.
Linda]

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You think of the beautiful Italian woman you waited with at the station, conversing in Spanish – the common ground you share. She’s in your home town for 20 days, making a side trip today, with her sundress, cheerful tote bag, and elegant cream shawl. Utterly alone, yet happy and secure, 6,500 miles from home. The train calls you each to different cars, and with a smile and a quick wave you know you will never see her again. If she told you her name, you’ve forgotten it already.

You write in your red notebook, and a friendly-looking woman takes the seat next to you. Thankfully she nods and lets you be. As her stop approaches you strike up a brief conversation. She rides this train to work most days. Beats driving. She wishes you a good trip, and is gone.

You check Facebook. Another friend has lost her horse. Half a dozen in the space of a month. Neurological disease, laminitis, snake bite, heart failure… Best friends for years, decades… And now an empty stall and a broken heart. You wish her peace. She did all anyone could. Sometimes there’s nothing anyone can do.

At Union Station, with its leather seats and elaborately-tiled walls, you wait for your next train. You notice the young, rosy-cheeked woman next to you is not napping, but Ill. When roused she’s uncoordinated and slurring. She fumbles through her purse and finds a blood glucose test kit. Uh oh. She’s dropping things. You offer a small bunch of grapes, but she has to check first. It’s high. 340. No grapes, but thank you for offering. She seems a little more alert, but not right. You tell her you’re going to have to leave for your train in a few minutes, and ask if she wants you to find someone to help her. “No,” she assures you,”I’ll be OK.” You’re not convinced, and circle back after walking away. She’s gone. You hope she be alright as you hurry to your train.

Everything on the train is new and wonderful, until it isn’t. You learn where the food is, and how the bathroom works. You find your way around, discover a big empty room to play in, and covet the kettle chips they sell in the cafe car. Awesome, fascinating… And then ordinary.

Except for the big room. That doesnt get old. You keep returning to move and stretch, and you meet some people who are likewise desperate to get out of their seats, lie on the floor, reach for the sky, and breathe – the Tai Chi practitioner with sciatica, the woman who, with a little friendly prodding, joins you in a few minutes of swirling warm-ups, and leaves smiling, the Mennonite family with a tiny toddler in her modest coat-dress, glad to move unrestrained for a while, the old woman, who hangs on for support, but indulges in a few stretches as if she’s sampling a favorite childhood food she’d almost forgotten. And there are the ones who don’t come in. Some look wistfully, but their clothing or their sense of propriety prevents them from getting down on the floor on a train, where people might see them. There’s hope for them. Others look at you harshly, as if you are breaking the rules, down here messing around in the basement of the car, instead of sitting still in your seat like you’re supposed to. You feel bad for them.

A large group of old people have been in the observation car for hours, listening to the National Parks Rangers describing the areas we pass. Ladies with canes and little coolers full of healthy snacks to share. Men with green ball caps stating their military affiliations and wars in which they served. When the train reaches their station they all help each other down the steep stairs, and they are gone. You take one of the empty seats near the big picture windows.

You talk with your seatmate for hours. You’re from the same place and culture – San Diego, the beach, connecting with nature and movement – but two decades apart. He reads you the prayers he recites every day. You tell him about embodying qualities you want to develop. There’s a connection there. You each wander off, wander back.. Eventually it’s his stop. At least you member his name.

Now students board. School starts next week. The train picks up dozens at every station. They are on their way to their new beginnings, with their backpacks and smartphones. It’s late and they have a long ride ahead of them. You chat for a few minutes with young lady who just returned from China. The students crash in every horizontal space they can find. The train becomes a rolling dorm.

Your stop nears. You collect your trash, gather your things, and thank your car attendant. You wave goodbyes to a few of those you’ve met, who are still awake and happen to be on your way to the stairs. The train slows to a stop, you step off and vanish down the long ramp as it pulls away.

Look! There was room for a little yoga studio / dojo on the train. :-)

My first reaction to seeing it? “BWAAAHAHAAA! MINE!!!”

This used to be, I think, the Arcade Car – with crappy old video games, or maybe it was a baggage area. In any case, several of us found refuge down there, in the basement of the car. There was a guy who does Tai Chi, and has sciatica, who was as happy as I was to have found an open space to move and stretch. Several others dropped by, including a Mennonite family with tiny kids. A bunch of us hung out down there for the Atlas V launch, did some yoga, went through Aikido class warmups, etc. Every long-distance train should have a room like this! 

I traveled from San Diego to Sacramento today on Amtrak, for the Weekend Intensive Seminar with George Ledyard Sensei at Two Rivers Budo. Great fun, and a beautiful ride! Very excited about the seminar – I’ve been wanting to do a seminar with Ledyard Sensei almost since I started training. But first, sleep. 24 hours awake is quite enough. Up again in 5 hours.

Hitting the Road, Again

Last weekend I participated in a seminar at my own dojo, with Sensei and a guest instructor – some of it at a retreat center in our local mountains. It was lovely and loving, thought-provoking and embodied, inspiring and intense. One of those experiences I need to sit with for a while, and ruminate over, but also with some immediate impact.

Now sometime well before sunrise on Thursday I will be up and on my way to the train station, for an 18-hour scenic journey to an Aikido seminar I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

I plan to be posting en route, about recent insights, frustrations, and joys. As usual for road trips, please forgive typos, short posts, etc. I may not have Internet access all the time, and will be posting from my iPhone and iPad. I’m really excited about the trip, about seeing friends, and about experiencing some great Aikido. Please join me.