Friday, June 09, 2006

Late for the train

This week’s post is sponsored by a generous donation in memory of Bertha and Joseph Kane.

Sometimes - but not always - the way to compensate for a shortcoming is to go to the other extreme. When you've overeaten, diet. When you’ve been hasty, slow down. When you’ve been lazy, get up and run.

I was teaching in New York last night and ended the evening with a l’chayim with an old friend from my Israel trip last summer. It was good to see him but hard to understand how someone can work an 80 hour week and still look like he just came from a day at the beach. “Youth is wasted on the young....” We were talking relationships, and (he doesn’t know this) he gave me a new insight, despite the fact that I teach classes on the subject.

Now, we were sitting in a bar “just a few blocks” from the train station, and that deceptive distance (New York blocks are looong) made it possible to linger just a little more than I should have. The last train out of New York leaves at 10:05. The next one after that is at 5 a.m. I was soon sprinting through central Manhattan with my heavy bag. I really did not want to miss the train and it occurred to me that this might be a good time to pray.

I prayed.

My legs were beginning to ache and the station was still a block away. At least, I figured, I was burning off that beer. I dashed into Penn Station at 10:04. Maybe there is a long line and they’re delayed. I searched the reader-board but it was too late! my train had already been bumped off!

Quite breathless, I interrupted some cops engaged in obviously pressing discourse: “Where’s the Washington train?”

Visibly annoyed, one answered, “I think it’s track 14E, but it’s gone now.”

I ran to the 14E entrance. The down escalator was going up. Really not a good sign. Another officer sat in a booth there. “Has the Washington train left yet?”

“It’s gone.”

“Are you sure?” I peered down the escalator, thinking maybe I could see if the train was still in the station.

“She already called up, said they’re pulling out.”

I was facing the unacceptable prospect of being stuck in New York for the night with no backup plan. What would my father have done? Look for a solution!

“Well maybe it’s still here. Maybe it hasn’t left the station! Can I go down this, do you think?” I was preparing to leap down the up-escalator like a kid in a department store.

“You can go down over there,” he said with a shrug, pointing to a staircase.

I charged down the stairs so fast that people and objects whizzed by in a blurr.

What joy: There were two trains on the tracks! One surely had to be mine. The one on the left had a conductor in a doorway arguing with a lady on the quay. He paid me no attention but leaned slightly for me to squeeze in.

Then I noticed something terribly wrong: the train was dark. The inner doors to the cars were locked. Maybe this is the wrong train, I thought. Maybe it’s the other one. But why did he let me on? Maybe he was absorbed in his argument, maybe he thought I was coming back to fetch something forgotten.

I tried squeeze my head out the door past him and verify that this was the right train. He got angry in a New York type of anger – “What’s your problem!” He worded it like a question but yelled it like an accusation.

I was contrite but still in panic-mode - “I’m sorry! Is this the Washington train?”

“Yes! Jeez Louise!!”

“OK, great, sorry. I just couldn’t get the door open.”

The train departed seconds later. Do you think I was thankful?

I said thanks.

The same conductor walked through to collect tickets while my ankles were still throbbing. This time he was the contrite one - “I’m really sorry, that lady was giving me a hard time. She was mad because she wanted to go to Aberdeen but this train don’t stop in Aberdeen. She was acting like a big shot, telling me that she works for the Port Authority. I told her that I work for Amtrak, different company! Some people. I’m sorry I over-reacted, she was just pushing me to my limit. Here we’re past time to leave and she’s giving me a hard time. Some people!”

So we both apologized to each other profusely and shmuzed a bit more. He seemed happy to get this incident off his chest.

It then occurred to me that this lady’s argumentativeness had probably actually helped me. I told the conductor, “I really feel for you, but maybe her doing that helped me to make the train.”

He said, “You know, you’re probably right” and on his way back through, he stopped to say, “I’m glad you made the train.”

Every experience and every person in our life has a purpose in our life. It seems to me that the purpose usually falls into one of three categories:

A. To make you wise
B. To get you to ask for help or to say thanks
C. For you to give or to receive an act of kindness.

Sometimes a single experience can have more than one purpose.

Question for the dinner table: What happened to you this week that gave you wisdom, or that should have caused you to ask for help or say thanks, or that allowed you to give or receive kindness? How did you do?

Shabbat Shalom


Anonymous said...


Thank you very much for sharing this.

This past Monday, while I'm 1500 miles from home with my dying Father, my AC died and a neighbor crashed her car into my house.

G-d responded with wisdom, kindness, and generosity via my wonderfully mature and responsible 23 year old son, my insurance agency's very trustworthy contractors, and the equally trustworthy AC contractors. They all gifted me with their Divinity and provided me an opportunity for all 3 categories.

A. To make you wise
B. To get you to ask for help or to say thanks
C. For you to give or to receive an act of kindness.


Benji said...


Hi Rabbi,

Loved this essay. So often we are absorbed in our own difficulties that we forget that every experience has meaning. Often I get angry about an incident only arrive at the realization that the situation was in my best interest, or in order to assist someone with their problem.


adam said...

I have recently returned to judiasm myself. I have been going to the local CHaBaD every week for shabbat and a few times a week for classes. In shul I have been struggling with prayer. After all my concept of religion stems from encounters with born-agains screaming on the sidewalks of the promenade in Santa Monica. Not exactly holy ground. "What is in a prayer except a connection to the past?", I ask myself. After listening to the first part of your lecture on "The Art of Amazement" I am not only floored by what you revealed but inspired to continue and discover more. I feel blessed that the more I look the more there is and what I find are people like you who give a body and a voice to the whispers I have only faintly heard echoing through my heart all these years. You are a blessing and I hope and intend to completely transform my desire to truly believe into an unshakable knowlege. Thank you.


BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

It is truly the case that often something ordinary can turn extra-ordinary what we least expect, and work to our ultimate benefit.

Life constantly amazes me....

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

You really are funny like Seinfeld. I liked the comment you made about every experience having 3 purposes. You write very astutely.

Datingmaster, Jerusalem said...

just to say come over and visit
ps I like your writng and your positive attitude
regards from Jerusalem