I love trains, but for me it’s not about the technical trivia that excite some other train buffs, it’s about the feelings they stir. My first memories of train travel go back to the days when we rode back and forth from New York or Atlanta to Baltimore, to home. I always thought of it as home, even though by the time I was 10 we were moving into my fifth home and I’d lived in Baltimore less than half my life. I think that search for true home has always been a thing for me. But maybe that’s true for everyone, because our truest home isn’t a place; it’s a relationship.
I loved the overnight train from Atlanta. I remember falling asleep to the soft clackety-clack of the wheels and being gently rocked through the night. I remember waking once in the middle of the night to the sound of crossing bells, watching out the window as we rolled in the darkness through a little crossroads town, and feeling a kind of weary loneliness which I treasured until I fell asleep again.
The opening paragraph from Thomas Merton’s essay “From Pilgrimage to Crusade”:
Man instinctively regards himself as a wanderer and wayfarer, and it is second nature for him to go on pilgrimage in search of a privileged and holy place, a center and source of indefectible life. This hope is built into his psychology, and whether he acts it out or simply dreams it, his heart seeks to return to a mythical source, a place of “origin,” the “home” where the ancestors came from, the mountain where the ancient fathers were in direct communication with heaven, the place of the creation of the world, paradise itself, with its sacred tree of life.