Sometimes in life, we have situations that we can’t change. No matter how much we stamp our feet, cry, argue or plead, there is nothing we can do. We have a roadblock in front of us. It might be something big like the loss of a job or the death of someone we love, or it might be something smaller like having extra responsibilities put on us at work. Whether big or small, we have to deal with these seasons of life. I am faced with this whenever I leave my house to go somewhere and get stopped by the train.
If you live in a city that has grown out past the railroad tracks, or is progressive and built overpasses over the tracks, you will not share my pain. But here in our crossroads of Sugar Valley, the train runs about a mile from our house. Sometimes as I am racing out the door to meet my running friends, or to get to church, I will hear the whistle and know that I may as well take my time – I am going to be stopped anyway. I go the opposite way to school, but still have a track to go over. It never fails that when I am running late – which is most of the time – I hear the dreaded clang, clang, clang of the alarm and see the crossing guards come down. Then I have no choice but to wait.
In bygone days, the train was the main way people got around. Our neighbor Jack Brown, who has lived in Sugar Valley all his life, talks about taking the train the 7 miles into Calhoun back in the 50’s, back when Sugar Valley had a depot and hotel and several thriving businesses. My mother would take the train to go from her home in Goldsboro, NC to college in Greensboro, Women’s College then, now UNCG, and she and her friends played bridge and gossiped all the way. That sounds like fun. But now the trains that come through here carry mostly frieght. I should look at them and be thankful our economy is starting to do better and that someone somewhere is buying whatever is on the train, but mostly they are nuisances to me.
Multiple roads do cross the track and sometimes I will try to go around and outrun it, but it usually does not save me any time. However, I at least feel like I am doing something, even if it is a waste of time and gas. That is often how I respond when these situations come up in my life – I run around and waste time and energy trying to get around the problem, instead of just waiting it out.
Since the trains are a part of my life, and I know that I am going to inevitably see those guardrails come down, what can I learn from them?
1) Things happen that we cannot control, so we need to focus on what we can control and be prepared.
I can’t control when the trains come through, but I can leave my house on time or even a little early so that if I am stopped, I am still on time. This applies to our health as well – I can’t control if I am going to get cancer or some other illness, but I can be in the best health possible right now so that if I do get sick, I will hopefully be strong enough to fight it. Keeping my prayer life going and my support system close are also ways to prepare for those roadblocks to come.
2) When things happen that we cannot control, we need to make the best of it.
When I am stopped by the train, I can either fret and fume, or use that time for prayer and relaxation. Either way I am not moving, so I might as well use my time wisely. The same goes for those times in our lives that we can’t change – we can spend our time being angry over the situation (which is okay for a while) or do whatever it takes to make it through in the most positive way. I can think of many friends who have gone through loss and sickness with dignity and a sense of concern for others and these are the people I admire.
3) Finally, and this may be the hardest part, we need to know when to accept our circumstances and when to fight to change them. Calhoun is cut in half by the railroad track, and I have often said that it is going to take someone dying trying to get to the hospital on the other side before an overpass is built. Just because I have trouble getting to church on time, should I be the one to lobby for this? I am reminded of the well-known Serenity Prayer:
Having that wisdom to know when to try to change things is the key – and that wisdom only comes from prayer. I am struggling daily to have that wisdom and to know when to scream and push back against those things I don’t like in my life and when to accept them as my cross to bear and to ask for the serenity to accept them.
Meanwhile, I can always blame being late on the train!