The place is the Lake Shore Limited, from Worcester to Chicago. The time is a time apart. The emotion is momentary disappointment in learning there is no Wi-Fi. But I soon become peaceful at the notion of a screenless life.
My husband and I sit, write, read books, gaze out the window, and talk to one another. Our choices are delightfully simple, from an earlier generation of being. No email take over. No Facebook or immediacy from the Web. The slowness that is train travel is beautiful.
A dining car attendant with a British accent comes to our coach seats and inquires if we wish to eat lunch now or in thirty minutes. We choose the latter. I wonder if we have arrived somewhere in Europe or just London. Marc's lovely lilt is too perfect. One half hour later, we are looking out the window of the cafe car. It's a dark, cloudy day, but light comes into our world. Glimmer shines on farmhouses, windmills, and flat, brown fields as they whiz past us.
In Albany, we wait for the sleeping cars to attach to the main train and we meet the sleeping car attendant, Kevin, a tall, bearded man with a warm smile. He ushers us into the roomette that will be our home for the next twenty hours, and then does the same with other passengers.
I cherish feeling contained by the roomette. Two seats face each other. My husband reads, facing me. I write, facing him. Next to me, a lid, when lifted, becomes a toilet. Everything needed is right here. Books, snacks, writing tablet. Reach only with outstretched arm. That evening, when we go to the dining car for supper, Kevin transforms our seats into beds.
This train trip feels retro. It is a time without worries, plans, or what ifs. It is a time for conversation with strangers. Seated with us for supper is an older couple from Kentucky. I don't know many people from Kentucky. In conversation, I learn they are just like us, wanting to reduce their carbon footprint and celebrate the slow life.
I recall a train trip I took by myself in the summer of 1982. Across Canada, I had another friendly attendant who watched over me. I perched in the domed observation car, the Canadian Rockies enveloping and holding me. There, I had also felt safe and secure in the world, a mindset that had left me some months before that. I had thought this might be a last opportunity for travel, as illness had shaken me that year. But of course, it hadn't been my last chance. The MS did not progress rapidly, a fear which my loved ones and I knew, but did not speak. The journey had just begun.
We arrive in Chicago the next morning, a little jet-lagged from a bumpy sleep, for a five day visit with my in-laws. At ninety-five, their minds are still delightfully sharp, while their bodies need some attention. The Grants have recently moved within their Hyde Park neighborhood. Montgomery Place, true to its word, assists them with living now. They reside on the fifth floor and have reserved a guest apartment for us on the tenth floor. We dine together that first night and share their relief at the care received in their new home.
We go down to breakfast on our own. I notice a round-faced man – such friendly faces always attract me. He sits alone with his dry cereal and milk, reading the Chicago Tribune. Is he another retired University of Chicago professor? Some residents have personal care attendants, as is their due in this last chapter of life. I watch as they roll down the halls. And I hear the words of my friend, Dori, “Aging is not for sissies. It's hard stuff.”
At first, I don't like to witness this aging and am glad I don't need to use my cane indoors. I can't stop myself from thinking, “I'm not one of you. I still have lots of life to live!”
What is it about fear that pushes us away from one another?
But after a few days, I smile at familiar faces at breakfast, in hallways, and on the elevator. I feel at home with the ease of life here, as in our travel.
My husband and I walk in Hyde Park, by the old, ivy covered buildings of the University, by Lake Michigan, to the Museum of Science and Industry, and in the Japanese garden, rebuilt from one at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. This garden of peace, with its small bridges over dormant plants and gentle pools of water, reminds me that all can still be slow and simple.
The next week, we are back on the train, again with a bouncy overnight. Sleep, huh?
After breakfast, I walk through the twenty plus cars. Rocking and swaying, I grab hold of seats, and smile at other passengers.
“Pick up feet, Dana”, I say silently. That has become my mantra through Montgomery Place, the streets of Chicago, these train cars, and life.
On the return from Schenectady to Albany, white snow, freshly covering tree branches, flies by my eyes. I gaze meditatively, in appreciation for this mindful time of no worries, plans, or what ifs.
At home, I unpack and look askance at my computer. I tell myself to hold on to the slow of train travel and visit. Hold on to how slow is beautiful.