Monday, September 11, 2006

Stranger On A Train

[My wife suggested I re-run this blog from last year, in remembrance of the anniversary of 9/11 today]

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.


Anonymous bonnie said...

Wendy was right, as usual.

10:44 AM  
Blogger MrsGreenThumb said...

How kind of you to offer comfort to a stranger, then offer even more. Everyone has a story, we only know it when we get to know them. You and your wife did a good deed in giving her a chance to talk about a mother's loss.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous kristy said...

What a beautiful piece, Dave. I missed it the first time you ran it, so I'm glad you posted it again.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Squirrel said...

Wonderful post, glad you reposted, I missed it last year!

1:30 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

Nice, Dave. I missed it, too...thanks for posting it again.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Nankin said...

What a great post. And it's time to remember those who were hurt in so many ways on 9/11.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Kacey said...

I'm new this year, but am very happy that you gave it a rerun. It's really funny that all writings about 9/11 seem to be good. I suppose it is because we all care so deeply. Yours seems to be particularly poignant --- keep up the good work, Dave.

5:09 PM  
Blogger vicki said...

Oh, Dave, I didn't read this last year. This is painful and compelling. It's so much harder when we come to know these people as real individuals in the context of their families- but this is such a powerful reminder of what a human tragedy this event has been. Thank you for your care in writing this.

6:53 PM  
Blogger molly said...

I'm glad you re-posted this. It's a wonderful story to share. You never know who you're going to run into, or when you're going to have the opportunity to reach out and do a good deed. I'm so moved by this.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

It also takes a listening ear. You and your wife were kind to let her sit with you and then you listened with open ears and a sensitive heart. Thanks for sharing again.

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Deb said...

A very well-written an emotion packed post Dave; great job

7:18 PM  
Anonymous cassie-b said...

What a touching story. Thanks for sharing.
I won't forget that story.

5:39 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Wendy was definitely right about the re-post of that story Dave.

6:00 AM  
Blogger poopie said...

Love it Dave. Keep the faith. ^j^

2:46 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Amazing story Dave...

6:05 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hi, my name is Lisa and I linked onto your blog from Kacey's.

This story was so touching, I'm literally fighting back tears so that my kids don't think I'm nuts. "...a feeling of tranquility..." My God, the faith that this woman must have had to feel that intuition, and not panic. She just knew it was over, and that she would never have to worry about her daughter again, because she was finally "home" safe and sound, with God.
NOW I'm crying.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

I'm sure glad Wendy coaxed you to do a reprint on this for us.
What a poignant piece of writing, Dave. Very touching story. And it truly is amazing the people we meet and sometimes never know their story. I've always said....we all have a story to tell and her sharing such a meaningful one with you was a special gift. So thank you for sharing it with us.

6:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


12:47 AM  

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