Thursday, March 4, 2010

Train Rides

Have you ever wondered how people get from point A to point B, I don't mean in a physical mileage way, but in an emotional way. We all take in our surroundings and make decisions based upon the way we see things happening. Then when we get to a certain point in our life we take an inventory of how we are doing. Sometimes we are relatively satisfied, and other times we are disappointed, but do we ever really reflect upon the decisions we made that ultimately got us to point B?

I guess we might if we realize we are dissatisfied with our lot in life, but do we ever revisit those moments and try to undo the damage we did by our wayward conclusions. Or do we instead attempt to revise our opinion of our place in society that has us where we are at any given moment? Often times I find myself looking at my surroundings and wondering what would be different had I not missed my stop at Mannheim Germany 26 years ago.

 It was a long way back to Mannheim and we had to be back before roll call, so we had no choice but to board the train and hope that we didn’t get turned into the authorities. I sat in silence looking out the window wondering why I allowed myself to get talked into such a risky deal. In the distance I could see small lights beyond the darkness, but they just seemed to highlight my reflection in the window. I felt like my head was frozen in the position, and I couldn’t turn away from the window. All I could think to say to Mike’s constant ranting and murmuring was the single phrase, “Uhuh.”

I don’t really know how long I looked out the window before I fell asleep, but I was surprised when the conductor nudged my shoulder and woke me up. It took a few moments before I realized what he was trying to tell me. My German wasn’t great but it was good enough to understand that the train had reached its final destination and we had to get off. As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I asked him where we were and what time it was. Unfortunately, his reply was not what I wanted to hear.

He told us we were in Speyer as he waved towards the doors. We grabbed our only possessions which was a small paper bag of dried bread with a half-empty bottle of soda water, and headed for the doors. I looked at Mike and saw the same sleepy look in his eyes, as he must have saw in mine. The conductor either failed to tell me what the time was or my brain never registered his answer. It didn’t much matter though, because the light of day told me we already missed roll call. 

As we got off the train, I saw a big clock above the train station entrance. It was 7:45, we had not only missed our stop by more than 20 kilometers, but we also missed roll call by over two hours. Walking out the station doors and looking at the quite town of Speyer, I felt Mike's hand grab my shoulder as he pulled me to his side. As my body tilted awkwardly towards him he hooked his arm around my neck,while stating in a matter of voice that was on the verge of laughter, “Clarence? I do believe we are AWOL”.

With those words still echoing in my head, Mike and I began a journey that would take us all over Europe and eventually to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea before we would decide to turn our selves in. The weekend started off with a trip to Amsterdam to buy a kilo of hashish, it ended with us being “Absent With Out Leave” from the US Army.

Before we headed on our journey to anywhere but Mannheim, we decided aliases would be needed for our adventure. I chose the name Chuck that was originally given to me in school by a kid who could not pronounce Clarence. Mike chose the name Dave, but I really do not remember why he picked that name. When we eventually returned for our punishment a Month later, Dave became Mike again, I on the other hand liked my new name, and so now you know how I became Chuck.

That's a time in my life that many things changed, to start with, I turned 18 while we were AWOL. I eventually paid for my wayward act of taking an extended vacation from the Army, but in the end I wound up with an honorable discharge two years later when my enlistment, plus make up time was up. For better or for worse, I truly grew up while I was AWOL, as I feel it was then that I began to put aside many of the immature thoughts and actions which until then were only holding me back from the potential God gave me.

So as I look back at point A, I wonder what would be different had I not fallen asleep while I was on that train ride back to Mannheim? Well, to start with, I would probably still be going by the name of Clarence. The rest I will leave for another day of reflection.


  1. Hmmmm, cute story, well I can't reciprocate with a story mirroring the circumstances and I'm sure subsequent drama of the AWOL life. But um seems there are probably thousands of situations like that in regards to how we met our wives, or how our parents got married, our kids etc. or our jobs. All with circumstances that fall like domino's slowly careening (if thats a word) from its inception to a seemingly radically different ending. Mardee, my wife in heaven, used to say, “there are no coincidences”, and if that is true, then one see's the Divine hand of God. If it isn't true and situations just happen, then one still see's the Divine hand in it all working. Romans 8:28 (if you're in Christ) and if you're not in Christ then it is indeed just headed to no hope.

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