Yesterday, I spent 12 hours on a train after getting zero hours of sleep. Not for a lack of trying, of course. Instead, I stared out of the 24th Street window and timed the taxis, but I digress.
I was dropped off by my kind, if not a bit hasty, taxi driver who asked me three times if I was sure I could handle my bags. I dodged the plethora of homeless sitting in the station, checked my bag, and sat down. It was just before 6 and my train didn’t leave ’til 5 after 7.
I wouldn’t have minded, really, if Penn Station hadn’t been like the pits of hell. Even with islands of fans blowing at top speed, it was like sitting on the face of the sun and slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly sinking into it.
We were herded and finally loaded before taking off into what was actually a beautiful day. It was hard to sleep at first because I wanted to stare at everything, but I eventually passed out into what I’ve come to dub as train sleep.
Train sleep involves a lot of contortion. You must be freezing. You must be woken up at least every 2 hours, if not more. That action must be brought about by one or more of the following: the conductor, the train hitting a rough patch of track, a fellow passenger, or an area of your body so cramped that it refuses to stay in the same position any longer.
In the middle of one of my conscious sessions, the woman sitting beside me came back from the dining car. I was staring out the window, content in the realizations I’d had about the city and my future, but a little unsure of how to move forward. This woman obviously read my mind.
Not only did she offer me hummus and applesauce (not together), she started asking me what I did and what I loved. She lit up when I told her I had a degree in journalism and started spouting off ideas I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of. She said that I was in the perfect place to do whatever I wanted to do. After a moment of silence, she said:
“Don’t settle for something you don’t love to do. Don’t just go for the first job that comes along. I told that to my kids and I told that to my grandchildren and I’ll tell that to my great-grandchildren when they’re old enough to understand. It’s important to be happy. If you can’t find a job that will do that, create your own. There’s nothing you can’t do without the Lord’s help.”
I’m not a religious person. I don’t even know where I stand on that whole institution right now, but the fact that she tacked on a Christian sentiment to the otherwise brilliant monologue didn’t piss me off the way it normally would. It didn’t detract from its truthfulness. She said the last sentence so honestly that it didn’t feel pushy. It felt like this stranger, in her inexplicable kindness, loved me so much that she couldn’t stand the thought of me being unhappy. She thought I should know I could do anything I want.
I came off of the train without ever knowing her name, but she did a service to me just by laughing her infectious laugh and being good without hidden agenda.
My dad and Marigold picked me up and treated me to some nice Indian dinner before dropping me off at Mom’s. It was so good to see faces that mean home. I watched my favorite shows and laughed myself to sleep.
I slept for 12 hours. It was miraculous. My eyes are still tired, but my body is giving me a standing ovation right now. You’re welcome, body. It was all for you.