I was in an Amtrak station in Memphis on Tuesday night, waiting on a train to Carbondale, Ill., when the call came.
The train was supposed to arrive at 9:55 p.m. but had been delayed several hours by a problem with the rail somewhere in Mississippi, and I found myself sitting in Memphis, debating the merits of ditching my bag and heading for Beale Street to kill a couple of hours or going back to the Peabody Hotel — where the tour group was staying — to catch a little sleep before the train arrived.
As people learned about the delay, they started to get a little testy, so I thought it best to stay put and do a little metaphysical work to leaven the situation instead. As several people in line in front of me at the ticket booth grumbled and tried to argue with the patient young man at the window, I shut my eyes and silently prayed: Father, show me what You see here.
I opened my eyes to a different scene. The couple just in front of me made their way to the window and calmed down immediately as the young man behind the counter assured them that they would not miss their train out of Chicago the next day; the delay simply meant that, in effect, their expected layover had been moved a few hundred miles south, but their schedule would remain intact.
Nearby, a family with two young children had come in, and the kids were getting fidgety. I don’t normally make a habit of carrying toys in my bag, but I’d bought a toy for Jamie in Kansas, and I’d discovered, after buying it, that he was too young to play with it safely. It seemed just right for entertaining two bored little kids in a train station, so I gave it to them, silently thanking God for the opportunity to demonstrate supply.
A woman told a friend on her cell phone that she was staying at the station to wait rather than going back home, because she didn’t want to wake her mother.
Soon after, I met two women who did not know each other. One was walking with a cane and moving with obvious effort. She didn’t have any change, but the other woman went downstairs to buy her a soda anyway — and then graciously accepted the first woman’s offer of some butterscotch candy she was carrying after the first woman said she felt like a “freeloader.” The whole exchange was such a lovely expression of grace that it very nearly made me cry.
The Amtrak staff ordered pizza for all the stranded passengers, and as I watched one kindness after another unfold in front of me, I thought of a line from one of Mrs. Eddy’s hymns: “Father, where thine own children are, I love to be.”
As I rifled through my bag in search of something to read, I found a back issue of the Journal that I’d tossed in there. The cover story was called “The Myth of Time.” I laughed, taking that as another gentle reminder that all was well, despite the inconvenience.
At five minutes after midnight, my phone rang. As I picked up, I saw my friend Dawn’s name on the caller ID and my heart sank. She knows I’m on the road, I thought. She knows it’s late. This can’t be good.
The world stood still for a moment as I picked up and heard Dawn say, “I wanted you and your husband to be the first ones to know: I’m standing here watching the Rock burn itself down.”
I didn’t cry. It was a hard blow — rather like hearing that a friend has been diagnosed with some horrible disease and may not survive — but after my initial horrified gasp, the calm I’d been working to preserve all evening held fast, and I managed to keep my voice steady as I offered Dawn my condolences.
To myself, I was thinking: Damn it, I am stuck in a train station in Memphis, and one of my dearest friends is in Stroud, watching her livelihood go up in flames. This isn’t right.
Thinking about it now, I realize that the Father stuck me in that station on that night for a reason, and the reason probably had something to do with putting me in a situation where my thought would already be elevated beyond matter, and where I would have no choice but to sit quietly and do the kind of metaphysical work that needs to be done in such a circumstance, rather than rushing out in the middle of the night to stand in the dark and be mesmerized by a nightmare.
Today’s Folk Thursday entry — which I selected and set to post automatically before I left last week — is Joe Cocker’s Woodstock performance of “With a Little Help From My Friends.” As I look at Ron’s site and see the sad photographs of my favorite haunt with its sturdy stone walls charred and its roof caved in, and I read the words of support posted by people from all over the world, I know that Dawn — who is one of the strongest people I know — and her Rock will get by with a little help from their friends.