Where Are You Positioned? Before, Behind, or Beside the Freight Train

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Last week a freight train stalled my usual morning commute. Of course, in the vast scheme of things, the few minutes I spent waiting at the crossing were nothing. But coupled with two other events over the past week, I found myself asking the question that I’ve used as the title of this post: am I before, behind, or beside the racing freight train?


As a father of six, married for nearly twenty-five years, taking care of a live-in mother-in-law, working as a high school English teacher, paying a mortgage, tending three vehicles, and all that comes with such responsibilities, I feel I spend MOST of my life trying to outrun the relentless train. We all know it’s humanly impossible to outpace a freight train without supernatural aid, but I envision myself frantically pumping away on a pump trolley in an old cartoon (perhaps Tom and Jerry), just barely staying ahead of the speeding train. In this state of being, the only goal is to survive.


Then there’s that feeling of always trying to catch up, of always being behind. I feel this the most as a teacher. Give me all the prep time you want, I will never feel fully prepared to teach a class, even if I’ve been teaching it for over a decade (or two). There’s always more that could be done to make it better or more effective. There’s always another paper or essay to grade. There’s always more that I could do to communicate with parents about their children’s progress. And that’s not even addressing how behind I feel at home as a husband and father! In this state (just as exhausting as being before the train), the only goal is to NOT give up.


This is where I found myself last week on the way to school, watching the black hopper cars race by until the Illinois Central Engine finally roared past in the caboose position — a forced pause put on my day that could have easily disquieted my soul: now I’m going to be late!

Our world has been in a forced pause for just over a year now, with some experiencing this more severely than others. Rather than focus on all the negative consequences of times such as these (though honest and grave concerns exist), I needed to be reminded of the invitation to welcome this as a season of rest. Admittedly, I did find that to be true from March through August of last year, but now, not so much. Was this a divine interruption, a reminder to slow down? That’s how I took it. What follows is the fruit of taking the time to enjoy the delay beside the train, a reminder to slow down rather than race to beat the clock.

Beside the Freight Train

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2021

The horn and rumble of the freight train
signaled inconvenience and delay,
my just-in-time routine derailed
by the interminable chain
of empty black hopper cars
pulsing down the tracks,
the moving wall paralyzing
a morning's routine commute.

South of the Broad Street crossing,
I wait the lifting of the arms,
the gentle easing-off of the brakes
as the red eyes winking go blind
and it's business as usual:
right onto Erie,
left across the rails
onto North Center Street,
each turn perfectly choreographed
down to the parking spot
beside the slowly melting mounds of snow.

Shouldering my backpack,
the weight of it all becomes real.
I'm not racing to beat the clock;
the bell has tolled a thousand times before,
and I am still here,
traveling and yet arrived,
more willing to encounter freight trains
on my wonted way through life.

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