It is the summer of 2008 and I’m on a train ride to my new company headquarters for job training and orientation. It is so hot and humid here in June. I wish didn’t have to wear a suit. I’m already sweating at it is only 9am. I haven’t taken the train since I was a girl and I’m not sure of the procedure so I am here early. To early as it turns out. I didn’t realize you can practically walk onto the train from the station which is so small and seems to be a throwback to an earlier time. I step on and grab a seat next to the window that I want so I can watch the views go by. I carefully remove my jacket, put my bag away, and grab my book, headphones and music. I’m all ready to sit back for a couple hours, cool down and relax. After sitting for a bit we take off and a few minutes later arrive at the DC station stop Union Station; this is a much larger station and many start to board the train. The seat is empty next to me but I have a feeling it is about to be taken.
With my headphones on and reading I’m hoping to avoid any distraction from anyone who may want to sit and talk the entire time. Suddenly someone takes the seat next to me. It is an older black gentleman. I’m awful with age but I know he is older; possibly 80’s. We smile and I turn back to my book. I can see out of the corner of my eye that he is wearing some kind of brown uniform. Looks kind of like a military uniform. He removes his hat and puts it under the seat. At first I just stay still, hoping to avoid further eye contact. I had plans and excited to see what happens in the next chapter of this book.
As we start to pull away from the station he starts talking to me. I have to remove one headphone but hoping the way I did it shows him that I wasn’t listening and desire to keep it that way. “How are you? Where are you going?”He says. I tell him I’m off for work. Keep it simple. “I’m Joe and my wife back there and I have been married for almost 50 years.” I think maybe he would want to be with her but obviously two seats weren’t available. “Would you like me to move so you can sit together?” I say thinking that was his point of talking to me. He responds “No it is quite alright. She is fine – see.” I look back and see that she is quite fine – reading her book.
“We are heading to a few schools. I often travel and visit schools to see the young kids.” He says. “I was in World War II and I go to tell them my story”. Ok now I’m interested. What is this ‘story’. “Back then in the war we were segregated as part of the US army; so I wasn’t allowed to fight, live around or eat with other races than my own.” He said it so calmly and matter of fact; really no emotion to it. He went on. “I traveled and saw much of the world though. I learned so much from it. Also I watched many of my closest friends die.” I really stop and listen now as I can only imagine what that feels like. I say “How do you come back from that and move-on with life?” He smiles and responds, “That is what I’m doing at the schools. I’m there to tell the students that you have choices and each of us can make a difference. Sure life can be hard but they can learn from it and be anything they want to be. Our country may not be perfect but we have so many great choices available Life is too short to walk around with all that hate and anger.” He says with a big tooth grin.
We passed the time as I sat listening to his stories about the war, coming home, meeting his wife, having kids and growing up in DC. He told me about raising his kids and the kind of lessons he provided them as a Father. He has seen so much change in his lifetime and now goes to schools at his own cost to share his story. “So many of the young kids haven’t seen or been through a war. I don’t want the memory of what my friends died for to be lost. I feel my destiny is to speak, pass it on and help others.” He reaches out and pats the top of my hand as if I understand this.
I like the word ‘destiny’ as I find so many don’t listen to what is right for them. Yes even I have had many times where I didn’t trust myself but when I return it feels right – like home. “I too feel my destiny is to help others” I tell him. I go on to tell him how I help others both by helping others find new jobs and by teaching yoga. He smiles at me in such an understanding way. “I think we were destined to meet. Do you believe in angels?” He says. This puts a smile on my face. No further words are required as we understand each other.
Before I know it the hours have gone by. His stop arrives and mine isn’t far ahead. We say good-bye and instead of feeling as if I wasted the time or missed reading my book I’m left feeling a sad loss that I won’t know him again. He has left the train with his wife and the seat is once again empty next to me. Yet I feel great in knowing that we shared this brief moment. All the worries or concerns I had about my life, the new job, future, expectations all slowly melt away. Maybe my angel needed to remind me and sent this stranger to me. `
“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow…. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision…. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone… I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn… I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou RIP May 2014