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March Forward 2018:

Trains that Pass in The Night

It’s been a fast-paced past year for me, readying the Homestead of the past 20 years to go up For Sale; preparing the new property and house plans for a Dream Home; and scouting for the intermediate Rental House that will temporarily ensconce me, Dear Hubby, 2 cats, and the royal rascal, Chance the Beagle. In that temporary dwelling place, we shall engage in the adventure of the construction of our home among the pine trees.

At times, I have felt like a train passing, not others, but myself, in the night. I opine that at least I’m not one of those trains that pass in the night, mindless of where it’s going and griping, like an oily diesel, all the way. Each and every day, and each and every night, I am thankful for a roof over my head, one that does not leak!

Not long after the shaky wake-up call to fiscal reality that shook the United States (and the world) in 2008, my beloved teaching colleague mentioned to me how “cold” people were to him. How cold and how angry.

I explained to him that the people who thought they could buy their way to happiness and were not able to do so, they were not about to turn right around and smile at everyone in the midst of their fuming and raging and a very strident sense of entitlement.

Their bitterness is palpable. The attitude of gratitude ain’t there! They’re miserable beings. And they choose to be that way: a person can choose to live with joy in her life or she can choose to cling to misery. Some people even luxuriate in the misery, the resentment, the groans, the moans. They can’t swallow their self-compounded bitter pills and so they spew the rancor at anyone who offers them half a smile.

Stay away from those people. You can always share a cup of tea with me at three.

My dearly devoted friend agreed, and he sighed.

That tender interlude formed one of the last times when I would hear that soothing sigh. That cup of tea at three would all too soon be no more between my teaching colleague-friend and me. I miss him immensely as I march forward during this transition of my life, to a new phase, a new home, a new cup of tea at three. He is nonetheless very much with me in spirit, and I now understand all too well the reasons for his sigh.

It was an abysmal awakening for the covetous crowd in America, this realization that they could not spend their way to glee. Complacent and arrogant, they go through life exuding their toxic combination of unenviable character-less traits, all the while traipsing through the carefully tended garden pathways that belong to us, the cautious sentries of life.

Of course, there were more-than-enough grumblers in 2008 who did not catch the realization that money does not buy happiness. The truth seems to always escape their greedy grabby grasp. They’re slow on the up-take, unless it’s to take what rightfully belongs to someone else.

Because of those self-obsessed parvenus, there will be, at some point in time during the vast unknown future, another subprime-something in a sector of the economy that the fast-trains have found to exploit, quickly, for a fast buck that is supposed to make up for years, even decades, of putzing away time as if time is expendable. For those people, money always buys more time. It does not. Time is not money. Time is more than just money. It’s a gift to all of us here on this earth. Every day is a gift from the Eternal Giver of life.

Ben Franklin reiterated the proverb, “Waste not, want not.” That Founding Father has undoubtedly rolled over several times in his wise grave during the past decade (during the past century)!

And oftentimes, during the past decade, I felt as if the frugal and the patient and the humble and the meek and the quietly happy among us were under assault by those rude, reckless trains that pass in the night: the people who must be the glaring garish center of attention, the ones who must possess the biggest and the loudest of Whatever, regardless of the cost or price or consequential harm to Whoever.

It’s taken me some time to sort out that decade. I think for many people it’s been a long, slow climb out of the emotional pit of the Great Recession.

This experience has not been a pleasant one for me as I’ve attempted to come to terms with the end results of so much foolishness that was believed as sage advice. Many were the times when I could not believe my eyes or my ears. Those were the moments when the principles, precepts and precious beliefs that I’d dearly held all my life got overturned, or so it seemed, by the people in the fast lane of life.

Such flagrantly hedonistic narcissism was manifest in generations both older and younger than myself. Admittedly, I had to ask for help from the younger generation. My dear daughter assisted me once, cutting to the chase when I was trying to mentally place one young adult who was in the process of gaming the college-loan system. This girl was typical of the mid-late 2000s rip-off artists of loans and grants and even people.

“Is she one of those Suburban Brats?” I asked searchingly with uncertainty.

“Yes, Mom. The last time you saw her she was carrying a lunchbox.”

And so, for me, the two decades since the early 1990s came full circle.  (In the Home – April 2015)

The sins of selfishness are not merely visited upon the next generation; sometimes they are asked to stay for quite a while, with the luxury of well-fed denial and the lame-brained excuses to remain self-indulgent to the eventual point of self-destruction. Despair, my friend, begins with the inability to genuinely feel the pain of another person because you’re too wrapped up in your world of self-absorbed pleasure.

The late actress, Audrey Hepburn, a natural aristocrat of heart and mind, stated: “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”

The fast trains of life in the U.S.A. may have grown older but, having never grown up, they did not ever learn that lesson of altruism from Audrey. They were too busy using both hands to grab as much stuff as they could while they pushed their way to the head of the get-ahead line.

But it’s always been that way.

As a child, I was contented and delighted with my crayons and coloring books. Other children were flashing their fancy paint sets, even though they could not even wield a brush or master the basics of a color wheel.

As an adolescent, I enjoyed, out of necessity, shopping in thrift stores for antiques and vintage clothes (long before vintage became oh-so-chic) while my peers were flaunting their first-buys of the latest posters, gadgets and fads that wore out long before my outmoded camel lambswool coat with the raccoon fur collar needed another going over with the lint brush. Those fast trains raced ahead, to where I still shudder to think, because years later I found out about the derailments of the “in” crowd. Some of those Groovies were fast train wrecks.

I preferred to cling to vestiges of the past, while I chugged (not chugged-a-lug) along toward the future. For as long as I could, I held onto my browned, antiquated, poster-under-glass replica of the last speech ever given by President Theodore Roosevelt: Keep Up the Fight for Americanism. I lugged the thing with me to University. There I was mocked even more than I’d been jeered in High School about the outmoded concept of Americanism.

Bully! I see that concept is even more vilely trashed today by the pompous fast trains on their way to nowhere, or Nowhere-Ville, to EU-ize, and further euthanize, their pet lingo.

That treasured antique was too weighty, in physical heft and in classic philosophy, for me to lug it on an airplane decades ago, when airplanes were not buses with wings. I gave the antique to an elderly man, who, with tear-filled eyes, thanked me. He said he would always prize it. I believe he did. I then journeyed West, to California where I shockingly discovered that I would truly be in need of the spirit of TR! I’ve carried on, as best I can, in his stead!

The non-material aspect of a belief is the vital one. Fast trains among the envy crowd don’t cherish many beliefs, other than the creed of selfishness, sloth, greed, deception, malice, and fraud.

I have learned throughout my life that the future has a way of leveling off narcissists. Reality always comes at a bad time for the selfish ingrate. During a period of intense and even painful struggle for myself and my incipient family, I received a phone call one morning to inform me of the death of a beloved, a woman who had become like a grandmother to me.

The caller complained that this death came at a bad time for her.

“Yes,” I assured her, “Death can be very inconvenient.”

My brutal sarcasm was lost on this self-absorbed woman, so wrapped up was she in her own self-destructive ego needs.

For reasons that will always elude me, I continue to believe that the ghastly egotist will change and will somehow begin to fill the emptiness of her vulgar vanity with virtue. Experience ought to have been a severe teacher for me, but hope continues to reign supreme over that experience!

As a young adult, I got my first raw experiences from the envy crowd “at work,” sharpening elbows of resentment to get to the front of the line, wherever the line was going. More trains passing in the night.

Where do those runaway trains go, once they’ve run out of track? To another bank, another person to use, another complaint form? There is rarely any thought given to actually building more of their own track. There is always an eye given to taking some of yours though!

Jean de la Fontaine’s story,“La Cigale et la Fourmi,” with its ending of one benevolent serving of a helping hand, can be applied to this perpetual problem among humanity. Aesop’s “Grasshopper and the Ant” serves up a more severe remedy for the careless, spend-thrift sluggard. Another solution is to avoid the envious or at least to accept them for who and what they are. Focus on the grateful, not the ingrates who lack scruples and qualms. The ingrates are the first to open the close-fisted palm. They give only to take more of whatever it is they pretend to “give.”

It can be disheartening, the heartlessness of others. It can dispirit anyone with the spirit of kindness and charity. It can prompt the trusting heart to not trust anyone, anymore. It can spook an impressionable mind into seeing villains where there are none. Perhaps these effects are the intended goals of the takers in a world where quantity is too often esteemed more than quality: the demoralizing of the moral soul, the theft of trust from the loving heart, the doubt sowed about humanity in a mind that has known inhumanity.

That deficit of decency among our fellow men, and women, is nothing new either. There’s always been a steady surplus, throughout the history of our world, of the nasty people who, as the French say, cracher dans la soupe: ruin things for others. That act of "sour grapes", in America, has almost become public policy, a platform on which to scream even louder about the fate you’ve brought to yourself.

The pernicious objectives of those bratty, green-eyed monsters can be thwarted if you keep your eyes on the prize: empathy, mercy, amity, charity, and a conscience that refuses to surrender to the theft of innocence and serenity.

That type of conscience longs for grace and dignity. It searches for tenderness within these tawdry times in which we live. It hungers for propriety and prudence. It seeks to love one’s fellow man. Instinctively, it is repulsed by evil. It flees the corruption of purity, with the will to live, the will to love.

The Jaundiced Eye fights love as if it were a fire-breathing dragon. She’s the modern version of Saint George and the Dragon, in moral reverse! Lacking conscience, or worse, ignoring it, she attacks whatever is right and pure and decent and then she proclaims she has battled for justice, and truth!

The malice-mongers claim the moral high ground but, in reality, they’re wallowing in a cesspool of moral squalor. As long as the appearance of “ethics” benefits these hypocrites, they’re sneering saints. The minute, or nano-second, the situational-ethic changes its situation, they’re outta there — like a Bullet Train!

Listen to your conscience, like an aubade calling to your heart.

A conscience is a wonderful comfort for those of us who are the steady, dependable trains that reflect the strength of our love of duty. We are unlike fast, flashy trains that deflect any and all responsibility through the whining cry of victimhood. The train bound for a magnificent destiny is one that passes through the darkness in the night and journeys toward hope and faith and the silent reflection of the blessings — of not just the past year, but the past years, yea, even a lifetime.

A train is a thrillingly romantic image. It’s a magnificent iron beast from the long-ago. Its mighty vision still lives in the minds and in the hearts of any individual who believes in freedom; and of any individual who cherishes the sublime responsibility that not only gives meaning to freedom, but which grants even more freedom to the person who nurtures and protects liberty, this glorious gift from God to man, woman, child, and beast.

Meindert DeJong was born in 1906 in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands. He journeyed with his family in 1914 to the United States, where he became a highly-awarded author of children’s books. This quote from The Little Cow and the Turtle expresses, for me, the essence of the locomotive engine within each individual of independent mind who becomes determined to fulfill his destiny through honoring the rights, of himself and of others, that were lovingly endowed by his Creator:

“The restlessness and the longing, like the longing that is in the whistle of a faraway train. Except that the longing isn't really in the whistle — it is in you.”

The true spirit of America is the little engine that could. The longing for optimism and the ethos of hard work — that’s the spirit of America, the train moving forward, toward a destiny of greatness.