Friday, April 24, 2020

Therapy by Lionel

I’ve been struggling trying to figure out how to write this piece.  On one hand, the topic seems pretty frivolous, but on the other hand I read an article passed along by a friend that contends the most important thing about living through a pandemic is making it to the other side.  

While daily lives have been turned topsy turvy, which isn’t news to anybody these days, the article contends it is most healthy to rethink the “metrics” of our lives — where we are, what we do, and what we expect from ourselves.  The article’s title says it all:  “Your Only Goal Is to Arrive.”  

With that higher order thinking in mind, I’d like to tell you about one small thing that has brought some joy and a little bit of sanity into my life:  my model railroading outfit.  

Like lots of kids — I want to say boys — I was gifted an inexpensive train set many moons ago at Christmas.  As a pre-teen, I have fond memories of hanging out on my bedroom floor on Saturday afternoons, by myself, setting up the simple oval track and watching the train go round and round.  To add to the fun, simple blocks on either side of the oval became towns and businesses.  Then I’d build a winch on the old Erector set motor and lift cargo in and out of the train’s hopper car in order to deliver the goods to the other side of the tracks.  So simple, but oh, so much fun!  Imagination did a bunch to sustain me back in those days.  I trust you had your own imaginary worlds that sustained you, too.  

A few years ago I bit the bullet and bought a real Lionel train, primarily to run at Christmas.  Cindy brought home a few buildings she found at JoAnn Fabrics where she was working part-time, and voila!  — a lovely Christmas village took shape under our Christmas tree.  Grade school-grandson Noah had the task of arranging the people and vehicles.  Not long after, as cat lovers will understand, the village was taken over by our hulking sphinx-like cat, Gracie.  We ended up calling our Christmas village Gracieville.  

Then a couple months ago Cindy had her four little buddies she babysits come visit for an overnight.  Since I would be away working on my book, I set up the Lionel on the basement floor before I left that I knew the kids would enjoy running.  They did.  

When I got home and figured it was time to stow the train, I had this feeling of leaving it up.  I mean, why not?  I found myself running the train around its figure 8 track while I watched hour-long YouTube videos of real trains running from Boston to New York or Milan to St. Moritz.  Last night I found one of the White Pass/Yukon line running the same route Cindy and I took on our only trip to Alaska twenty years ago.  When it passed our “Glacier” stop, that place where we disembarked and hiked back into the national forest to a cabin we had reserved for a few days, tears were easy to come by.  

So all I’m sayin’ is there might be some salvation in living through a pandemic by going back and reassessing those things that gave us joy as kids.  Trains sure do it for me, as I know it still does for my good buddy Dave Harrison. 

Reimagining meaningful events from your life might help you reach that station on the other side of this amazing and scary time.  Might some joyful contemplation work for you?

Today’s elder idea:   “We don’t stop playing with trains because we grow old, we grow old because we stopped playing with trains!”

Favorite quote of my model railroading friend Dave Harrison.

top:  Engineer in my new Union Pacific diesel locomotive.  Lionel, of course!
bottom:  Christmas 2012 around the Cooke Schaefer tree.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Thinking of others

Our downtown church has invited parishioners to write thoughts down in this time of coronavirus to serve as daily devotions.  Here is my first contribution: 

Like most of us, I was raised Christian.  For me it was Catholic with elementary education at Immaculate Conception parish in Belmont, then Carroll High School out east of town.  In a phone call with my older brother this morning, who spent a few years in seminary, I asked if he could still say the “Orate fratres,” a Latin verse we former acolytes recited during the old Latin mass.  He thought he could, though he’d have to look at it again.  I’m not near so sure about my faulty memory.  I served a year or so of masses in Latin, but when things turned to English, I found my attention span improved using words I understood a whole lot better.  Still not sure if I could do the “Pray, brethren” prayer in English, but I’d give it a good go.  

As I reflect on those early days, I’d have to say the most important lesson I learned at home, in school, and in sermons on Sunday and at First Friday masses was the concept of looking out for each other.  You know, as Christ taught us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  When I review the careers of my sibs and the volunteer work we all still engage in, I’d have to say our parents would be proud that we all learned that lesson pretty well. 

Unfortunately for society, I don’t think all the other kids in the global neighborhood learned the same lesson.  We’ve all watched the news enough that I don’t need to cite examples to make my point.  The world can be a dangerous and selfish place. 

But then along came a world-wide health epidemic.  We in America only heard about it for a time, then it came home to roost on our shores.  The singular thing that has impressed me most about where we are, amid the chaos, is the concept of not passing the virus onto neighbors, especially older ones.  

I’m not sure where the prime directive of not infecting others came from.  Maybe from China first, or Italy, or even Washington state, but the concept of protecting our family and neighbors by our own cautious behavior has struck a positive chord with me.  Seems like the Golden Rule put into practice in the real world in real time.  Political differences seem to have dissolved in the effort to keep one another safe.  I am hopeful it is a lesson learned that we will continue to perfect when we reach the other side of this pandemic.  

Food for thought:  What rediscovered human values of late have given you a renewed sense of hope for our world?  

image:  After Hurricane Katrina, members of our church headed to New Orleans to help.  Here Kris Sexton, one of those volunteers, sports a N95 mask we've all be hearing about.