Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Stranger On A Train

Anyone who rides AMTRAK knows it has the mechanical dependability of a very old car. Electrical malfunctions, engine breakdowns and track problems are commonplace. While we were riding back from Chicago last year, the air conditioning failed in nearly all the cars, though not in the dining car where we sat as part of an overflow of ticketed passengers. Before long, a woman about our age asked to join us at our table, wanting a respite from her warm, stuffy accommodations.

She was talkative in a motherly manner. At first she seemed a bit self-conscious at intruding but eventually she opened up. After describing her work with executives in the auto industry and the challenges of traveling alone, she began talking about her life and her family. Her husband had died some years ago, stricken by cancer in the prime of life. That left her to shepherd their two young daughters through the often tumultuous years leading to adulthood.

While she spoke, she pulled out a picture of her daughters. They were both long-haired, slender, conservatively dressed and with a scholarly demeanor. In fact, both girls were bright, though the older daughter held more of a passion for success. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a business degree. Then, she was among a few fortunate graduates to secure a position in the lucrative field of investment banking.

Eventually, she landed in New York, with a salary approaching six figures, her mother said. Pretty good for a young twenty-something. Four years ago this past Sunday, she was at her post high up in the World Trade Center towers. Then the planes hit. Her mother anticipated a phone call, knowing her daughter would want to let her know right away that she was okay. So she waited. An hour passed. Then two.

When after several hours, there was no phone call, the mother said she was overcome by a feeling of tranquillity. Whether it was mother's intuition, a spiritual sense, or something else, she knew her daughter had perished that morning. Her words brought my wife to tears. They both hugged and cried together for a moment. Then the mother went on to talk about her surviving daughter--her career as an oceanographer and her life on Cape Cod.

After we got off the train, my wife and I made sure the woman's car was still there where she left it. She thought it might have been towed after several days. The car was there and we parted ways. That was the last we saw of her. This past week I thought about that woman, whose name I don't remember. As I watched news footage of the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the memorials marking the anniversary of 9-11, I thought of how we opened our hearts as a nation to those affected. And it doesn't always take a generous donation to offer comfort. Sometimes it just takes sympathy, a few tears, and a hug.

21 Comments:

Blogger Deb said...

Amen. Well said.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Tan Lucy Pez said...

A moving post.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Gypsybobocowgirl said...

Very touching post, and well written. It brings home the real impact of 9/11.

7:59 PM  
Blogger WordWhiz said...

I came here to tell you that your "outseedaisy" comment on Hoss's post made me laugh out loud. Then I read this post and cried. You're a great writer, Dave. You stir up real sincere emotions. Thanks.

3:48 AM  
Blogger bornfool said...

Beautiful writing and a touching story. Thanks.

5:35 AM  
Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

Very nice story, Dave. Thanks.

7:23 AM  
Blogger Kyahgirl said...

That's a very touching story. Gave me chills. I'll never forget watching those towers come down on TV and the terrible sense of disbelief and anguish.

Laura

12:23 PM  
Blogger surly girl said...

it's the real stories that make me think and that in itself makes me sad. it's so easy to become conditioned to sorrow. as a british citizen i noticed today how the stories of the 7/7 bombs affected me, yet reading that 100-plus people died in a bomb attack in iraq made me go "hmm. ok".

thanks for a thought-provoking post.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Monique said...

This story gave me goosbumps. Excellent telling.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Bernadette said...

Speechless in Seattle...and to think of all the dear ones whose lives were snuffed out on that infamous day! I'm sure that mother appreciated you taking the time to listen to her story.

And, from the sublime to the ridiculous: We Lutherans don't do penance, but thanks anyway for your concern. I assume the mighty Wolverines are quaking in their boots at the thought of playing Ypsilanti tomorrow! Those Fighting Irish better be saying their prayers!

4:03 PM  
Blogger schnoodlepooh said...

Awww, that's a touching story ... and sad. When you think that there was a story to go along with each one of those lives that was lost it really sinks in. I feel for that woman, losing her daugher like that. How nice that you could give her comfort.

4:59 PM  
Blogger schnoodlepooh said...

I just re-read this post, Dave, and I have to say again, how touching it is. Your writing was beautiful and sensitive. It gave me goose-bumps to read it again. It's a beautiful 9-11 tribute and just a wonderful story.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous weirsdo said...

Schnoodlepooh sent me over here, and I'm glad she did. That was very touching because of all the details and how matter-of-fact the woman seemed despite obviously having experienced a great loss.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Ms. Vickie said...

I came over because you were featured at Schnoodlepooh's place. I am so glad she did. I have seen you around at several places I visit but never been here. YOu are a great writer and I will return often, Thank you for sharing.

3:09 PM  
Blogger LisaBinDaCity said...

I just got goosebumps. What a touching story. Thanks for sharing it!

7:08 AM  
Blogger Nankin said...

I came by at schnoodlepooh's advise. She was right on. Stories like this should be shared.

3:25 PM  
Blogger DottyLoulou said...

Wow! Very moving. Schnoodlepooh sent me here...

6:02 AM  
Blogger Valerie - Riding Solo said...

wandered in from Fred's. Just blogged about everyone being interesting and having a story if you take time to get to know them....

This was sweet., thanks!

10:52 AM  
Blogger Valerie - Riding Solo said...

Might have made more sense if I would have left a link to the post, sorry about that, Chief!

http://forwardho.blogspot.com/2005/10/everybody-is-star.html

10:09 AM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:57 AM  

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