Spring 2010 #7
The distant thrum of the diesel-electric engine. The sway and rattle of the carriage. The endlessly progressing vista … now coastal grazing land, greened by our best season in a decade … now a banking river … now a stand of paperbark, ringing a tannin-stained lagoon. Clanging bells of a level crossing retreat as fast as they appeared … now cattle idling beside dams brim-full with waterlilies in spring flower … now chugging switchback bends through rocky hills. Suddenly the startling pitch of a blackened tunnel … now mystic runes graffitied on the forgotten brick of factory walls … now the voyeur’s glimpse of unkempt, cheapside real-estate that a railway window uniquely affords.
Forty-something hours spent absorbing this sensory feast has a hypnotic effect, lulling one into some serious introspection. I can’t help wondering if there isn’t something more than a little frenzied, manic even, in all this travel? Six months ago it was several weeks spent in the Gibson Desert, pushing my manual wheelchair (good old Bugger!) to the limits of our combined endurance. I’ve not counted the trips since then; but this week I am notching up a rather stunning 2900km by rail, taking in the length of two States, our denomination’s annual conference, a flying visit to my daughter and her boys, and a wonderfully rushed weekend in Melbourne with my Best Girl.
The two most obvious dimensions of motion seem to have engraved themselves on my subconscious; embedded beneath every thought. Speed and Direction. How fast are we going? When will we get there? Where are we headed? What’s coming next? Are we there yet?
Is it just the mesmerizing effect of locomotive clickety-clack, or are these traveller’s queries not also the big questions of life? Such thoughts are often in all our minds, sometimes appearing as vision and anticipation; sometimes as fear and trepidation. At this junction in my life they have a new poignancy. I can’t but wonder….. What does my future hold? Where am I heading? How fast am I going? How much of my current wander-lust is born from a ‘now or never’ paradigm? And is that prudent or impetuous? I once boarded a train in Tamworth to farewell a friend, and soon discovered the need to ring another friend to rescue me from Werris Creek. It must have been an emotional send off! But I do feel like a passenger trapped unwillingly on a nameless train to an unknown destination. Are we there yet?
Coincidentally (or perhaps providentially) while on board I have been reading of two travellers in the ancient world. These two men of calling, Paul and Jonah, centuries apart, were also ‘trapped unwillingly’. Travelling by sea they had both, for different reasons, become subject to forces far beyond their control. But where Jonah (soon to be in the belly of the whale) is fearful and self-absorbed; Paul (in Roman shackles) is purposeful and assured. As the stories progress the two men deal with destiny very differently. Jonah, who was given great opportunity, seems unable to shed his own neediness, and his world becomes starkly self-centred and contracted. His final words vividly display his inability to re-align himself with a changing and grace-filled world: “I am angry enough to die.” How tragic! In contrast Paul – who faces imprisonment and eventual death – remains assured and fruitful. I find his determination and his generous spirit so appealing! Although he is held captive by Roman soldiers, he refuses to limit himself to their confinement, often describing himself instead as “a prisoner of Christ Jesus”. How magnificent!
With just a few hours left before my Favourite Wife joins me on the train for a weekend celebration of our 21st Anniversary I posted this on facebook…
From this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald … Tim Fisher’s list of luminaries who have boarded the broad-gauge rail at Albury Station: Mary McKillop, Don Bradman, Ben Chifley, Billy Hughes, Robert Menzies, Dame Nellie Melba (both vertically and horizontally), General Douglas MacArthur, Mark Twain ……… and ……… at 3.16pm today ……… KAREN ALLEN!
And a little further down the track the loud speakers crackle to life, “Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, CountryLink regret to inform you that flood waters have cut the rail line to Melbourne and this train will be terminating at the next station”. Heart break! It wasn’t to be. Our much anticipated Melbourne jaunt never happened; and although a cab driver made a valiant attempt to ford numerous turbulent crossings, we were to remain flood-bound, stranded in different towns for another night.
So, you see, even fastidious attention to speed and direction is no guarantee of destination. Are we there yet? Indeed if I look too deeply into what cannot be seen, I might miss the view from the train. Just keep travelling!