Coffee + Trains

The Polar Express Conductor: “The thing about trains…it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.”

He sat across from me, the same comforting presence he always was, only this time his hair was back and his face was relaxed and not swollen. A year had passed since he had been diagnosed with stage four-pancreatic cancer. A very serious prognosis some would say, a death sentence most would think. But here he was. Not cancer free, but in remission, which even he admitted, was a finicky term. It could mean several things, but what was important was he was better and the cancer wasn’t active.

His nurse had told him at the beginning of his chemo treatments that it was up to him. “You decide how long you want to live. You want to live one year? You’ll live one year. You want to leave 3 you’ll live three. You want to live five…” To which he responded, “I’ll take five please.” And since then has decided to stick around for a while. A decision I couldn’t be happier about. He said a close friend of his had received the same diagnosis and wasn’t so fortunate. He passed away just four months later. Such things are impossible to understand. Why he sat across from me and why his friend didn’t make it is beyond our knowledge.

He said he was at a crossroads, not unlike me at 22 about to graduate college, unsure and anxious of what is coming next. His situation, however, looks a bit different: still alive and having retired wondering what to do next. Much like me he toyed with different possibilities. He had recently taken on the role as the conductor from “The Polar Express” for an organization during Christmas time and enjoyed it tremendously. He mused about whether it was something he could do full time. I couldn’t think of a more fitting and magical role for him. He said kids would bypass Santa just to get their golden ticket hole punched and would gaze at him with open mouths as he said the famous line, “The thing about trains…it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.”

He looked at me and said, “You’ll be fine Blake. You’re not one of the people I worry about. You are confident, even when you don’t think you are. You’re not afraid.” This came at a time when I’ve felt the most unsure and unconfident ever. “You are confident, even when you don’t think you are.” I repeated the words over and over in my head after we hugged goodbye.

Why we have to constantly get on the next train in life I don’t know, but it’s not something that ever stops. Here he was at a much later life stage about to get on a new train just like me. This next step for me wouldn’t be my last, yet I had been looking at it as if it was. He put it so simply. “This won’t be the biggest decision you make, and you’ll make it, meet new people, learn some things and then move on to learn other things.” I had been thinking of it as, “this is the rest of my life”. This job, this city, this is the rest of my life; when that’s just not true because people are meant to keep moving, keep learning, keep meeting new people. Keep getting on trains.

The only thing keeping us from getting on is fear, and I’m choosing to decide that is just not a good enough reason. It doesn’t have to take a serious illness to motivate you to live bigger or appreciate the days you have and go for the next step. It takes humble confidence. A humble confidence he exuded well before his illness. A humble confidence I hope to exude wherever this train may take me because I will definitely be getting on.

Blake BlackmonComment