• The woman at the train station

    train stock image

    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 the woman. 

    “That’s where my Mom’s from,” Robby replied. 

    And with that my wife, Mary, quickly joined the conversation. “Where in Connecticut?”

    “Bridgeport.”

    “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 as ourselves.” 

    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 Springfield.         

     

    © Arlington Catholic Herald 2017