Monday, January 10, 2011

TO TAKE A TRAIN

Back to Elizabeth Janeway. There are lots of things I like about this quote (and this book). Notwithstanding some seriously flawed ideas about women and men. I took some of Daisy Kenyon with a mine of salt given when it was written. So here is the full quote:

"Getting on a train is one of the few acts of our mechanized civilization which retains its full emotional and symbolic value. Ever since the division of labor became a cardinal principle of human life, living has been cut up into the same snippets as work. The constant repetition of small meaningless acts leads us imperceptibly past the crises of our journey without our being aware of them. Only when the evidence has piled up and become overwhelming, when our own disappointed searching hearts have finally convinced us that we must have passed the expected landmark, do we turn and look back; to find the fork in the road irretrievably behind us; to discover we have fallen in or out of love, grown old, committed ourselves to a marriage or a profession from which we cannot escape or retreat.


No one stops us on the way. No priest, no medicine man, no traditional masked figure of the Tempter requires us to spend a night in celebration at an inn, or praying alone, or fasting until our visions reveal our true names and natures. One day runs into another. We are given a five-dollar raise and learn to run the new punch press. The children grow up so fast! Vacations are uneasy, and often we go to the same resort year after year. Sometimes, of course, between one season and the next something happens even to the most charming place—a new bus line, the incursion of an undesirable element, a hurricane which sweeps all the sand off the beach, submarine warfare that fills the sea with oil and makes bathing quite out of the question.


Try as we will, these uncertainties remain. When we are young, indeed, we look forward to them. We speak of romance and dream of the wild disorder of emotions we subsume under the name. But it is often hard to know romance when we meet it. There are so few enormous events, so few great men. We are forever discovering, too late, that abstract nouns when they clothe themselves in flesh are almost indistinguishable from one's brother-in-law or the president of the Ladies' Aid.


But to take a train—no disguise can cover the act itself. Actually and inevitably one steps off the platform into the vestibule of the car. The station porter stacks one's luggage exactly where it proves to be most in the way and departs with a handful of silver. There may be time to smoke a cigarette and repeat good-byes to friends who have been buying one drinks. But the actual dividing moment in time exists, slides out of the future, and takes possession of the terminal. It is necessary for one person to step into the train and others to remain without. Men cry hoarsely. The train jerks as motion beings to run through its iron veins. Not relatively but absolutely it leaves the station behind, clattering in the dark over the points that some mysterious agency has set for this journey and no other. One place has been left behind, and the unknown is rushing toward us, crying as it comes with the voice of the locomotive."


 Elizabeth Janeway, Daisy Kenyon, An Historical Novel 1940-1942


There are choices that lead us in specific directions from which there is no going back. That is not to say that courses cannot be adjusted and changed. But train and airplane travel are like that. Once you are on, you are on. Getting off the road, the train, the plane is usually no simple feat of stopping.

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