On the train

On the train to Heidelberg – May 2, 2016

I’m on the train traveling through the French countryside past fields covered in yellow blossoms with tiny villages, some ancient some modern, and windmills that would have daunted Don Quixote even at his boldest. I love traveling by train, and this time I splurged on a first class ticket. Someone brought me a sandwich and a beer, and I’m listening to Steely Dan through my ear buds. Earlier I was listening to vintage jazz from the 1920s. All about a woman’s love and heartache and longing, and the sweet melancholy that comes from being away from the one who has half of your heart. It’s perfect music for the train with its slow rhythmic swaying. If you are traveling alone.

I just spent a wonderful week in Paris with my wife visiting museums and cathedrals and eating two delicious meals a day accompanied by good French wines. Now I’m heading to Germany for a month at the University of Heidelberg. Alone. Alone like I’ve never been alone before. I’ve been alone for a week, maybe two, but never for a month. And in a foreign country no less.

I love traveling by train. Airplanes are too cramped and crowded. Buses, too. I love traveling along the ground seeing the world go by.Part of what I like about trains is that you can see the transition from one place to another. With planes you make your way through the surreal culture of the airport, shuffle down the jetway and aisle to your seat, and voila eight hours later you are in a new land. It is magical and beautiful in its own way, but the train lets you slowly adjust. You see yourself leave the metropolis of Paris and all of those sites and memories behind as you say goodbye to a part of your life, and then you watch the green hills and blue skies as your mind turns toward the future. Looking toward your new life, even if it is only a May adventure. The anxiety of travel, of getting to the Gare l’Est, finding the train, and finding your seat slowly melt away like the foam of your beer. Where there was anxiety and regret for past mistakes, there is now peace. For a few hours there is nothing to worry about.

Later, you will worry about where to meet the person who is meeting you at the Bahnhof and whether the apartment has the things you need and how much money you just spent on a once in a lifetime spree with your wife of a quarter of a century and how the children are doing at home and whether the German students will like your lectures and whether you will work on your book and what to eat and what to drink. But for another two hours you can live as Jesus instructed. Give no thought to those things. Let today’s trouble be enough for today. And for the moment, today has no trouble. Only a good book written by a close friend. Good music. And the piney grove that just passed by the window.

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