Usually, our trips to the train station are mad dashes. Stressful,
time crunched zig-zags through traffic to retrieve or drop-off a child before
hurriedly moving on to the next event or responsibility. But this time, four
days after Christmas, was different. With Amtrak Train 177 to Philadelphia not
scheduled to depart for another 45 minutes, we decided to park and walk into
the station to see our oldest son off. That’s when I saw her.
She was sitting at the end of one of the long, brown, church-pew
like wooden benches in the passenger waiting area. Temperatures outside were
below freezing and, with the exception of her shoes — old low-top white Nikes
with a black swoosh — she was dressed for it. What was special about her though
was her age. Her short, disheveled gray hair, grandmotherly complexion and the
walking cane leaning next to her said mid-70s. There were no bags or suitcases
next to her. She wasn’t going anywhere. She wasn’t waiting for a train.
Our eyes locked for a second as I stood in between two of the
benches, briefly hesitating about where we should all sit. I’m embarrassed to
say now that I chose the bench opposite to hers, purposely sitting far enough
away to discourage conversation. But then something special happened. I’d been
a few yards ahead of the rest of the family and when my son caught up with me he,
without any hesitation, plopped himself right down on the same bench next to
the older woman.
I saw a cheerful, hopeful look come across her face. And she
leaned slightly forward on the bench as she listened to us babble about his
plans for the coming weekend. Right about the time we began reminding him to
make sure he texted us when he got home, Robby looked over at her and smiled.
“Where are you headed?” she asked him. Her voice sounded like she
had a cold.
“Headed back to Philadelphia,” said Robby. “I was home for
Christmas, but have to go back to work tomorrow. How about you?”
“Well, I live here, but actually grew up in Connecticut,” said
“That’s where my Mom’s from,” Robby replied.
And with that my wife, Mary, quickly joined the conversation. “Where
“My Mom actually grew up in Bridgeport!”
“I went to Central High School,” said the woman.
“That’s where she went. But she was older.”
“Well, I’m 80…”
They chit-chatted a few more minutes until the announcement was
made that “Train 177 to Philadelphia was now boarding on Track 1.”
“Have a safe trip,” the woman said to Robby. “And nice talking
with you,” she said nodding to my wife. “Take care,” they replied.
I have thought about her frequently since then. Where did she go
after we left? Did she live in a homeless shelter? Was she by herself somewhere
in an apartment near the train station? She seemed so lonely, so desiring to
connect with others for the human touch that she went to a busy train station
on a Thursday night. And yet because her appearance made me uncomfortable, I
had been only too quick to dismiss her.
How often this happens in our lives. We get so caught up in
activities, in completing “to-do lists” and things we believe we “have to do,”
that we miss opportunities God presents us to be Good Samaritans. To be like
the Samaritan Jesus described in Lk 10: 25-37 who came upon a man on the road
from Jerusalem to Jericho and instead of “passing by on the other side,”
stopped and helped him. Jesus used this parable to answer the question about
what it means to be a “neighbor” to others. He calls us to “love our neighbors
In this New Year, may we all see the opportunities God presents
to us to serve others. And I thank the woman at the train station for reminding
me how I can do better. I hope that next time I will not “pass by on the other
side.” May God bless her wherever she is.
Newell is a parishioner of St. Raymond of Peñafort in
© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017