The last time I took the Amtrak train, there was a lot of excitement. Not the kind of excitement like Carey Grant and Katharine Hepburn suddenly arising from beyond and engaging in flawless banter, which would be exciting for me, but the “Houston we have a problem” kind of excitement.
After having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 11 years throughout my 20s, I became accustomed to the sensation of earthquakes, something that my east-coasters found to be quite “INSAAAAANE” and never hesitated to say so. After all, it’s in our blood. We say what we think out here on the East coast without holding back. It is a quality that I love about being a New Yorker, and one that many cannot stand about our inherent nature (I may even go so far as to say “our birthright”) when that is the case. Anyway, admittedly, becoming accustomed to the sensation of earthquakes is somewhat unusual. However, so are many things: becoming accustomed to smog, going to sleep with siren noises as “background music,” eating frogs legs, putting your legs over your ears, a speed limit of 90 mph, etc. What we become accustomed to, what becomes “normal” to us can be very uncommon to the passenger seated beside you.
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I was on the Amtrak train, minding my own business and I felt a sensation surprisingly reminiscent of the sensation of an earthquake. As if something had just torpedoed towards the train and then exploded, and then no less than an instant later, I smelled smoke.
As I felt the sensation, I sat calmly and looked in the direction of the feeling of it. Because I did that, I saw utter panic on the faces of several passengers. And then what happened afterwards fascinated me. I knew I smelled smoke. I knew there was an explosion of some kind. At least 6 passengers ran from the back of my car towards the front of the car to obtain items from their luggage. Who knows what? Money, personal items. It was their “take the money and run moment.” I found it really humorous.
Many around me immediately made phone calls.
A woman to my right was in a panic.
Just moments earlier, I had been thinking about “Titanic.” I guess because of the 100th anniversary and because of James Cameron’s re-release. What I have been thinking about is “who would you be in (the retelling of) that story?” I had often paused and wondered this ever since I saw the film. Would I have stayed on the ship with my beloved in a loving embrace? Would I have played in the quartet? Would I have simply closed my eyes and remained in prayer? Would I have done everything I could to survive? Would I have rallied and insisted on going back for more passengers to save in the lifeboats?
One thing I know for sure is that I would not have gone to a safe and collected cash. Nor would I have shot myself in the head.
The Amtrak experience was certainly no Titanic, but the behavioral patterns were very similar. There was greed. Panic. Generosity. Love. And there was also indifference. For me, there was serenity. There was love. There was surrender and there was laughter.
My laughter is not always I’m having a rip-roaringly great time, laughter. So it is something I must be attentive to. Sometimes, my laughter is actually a signal of distress. As in, I’m hurt. So I knew I had to sort it out. This time, it was a mixture. The passenger next to me was saying some very ominous things which were shocking to my nervous system, but the thespian in me also found her words quite funny. Juxtaposed with all of the disparate reactions so close in proximity to one another and my fatigue from the day, I could not help but giggle because there really was nothing else to do.
However, my most immediate response was one of lovingkindness. Hoping that no one was hurt and wishing for their safety and ease if anyone were. I simply found myself feeling calm. I wasn’t focused on what had actually happened. I had already let that go.
So many people wanted to know what had happened.
I spoke with my Beloved. I was very happy to do so. But for me, I carried an awareness that others around me were very nervous while I felt very calm and that may have been making them more nervous by my being so.
Who would you be in the explosion?
We weren’t allowed off of the train, so that doesn’t count. Just passengers in a car on a train without information. Without electricity. Without information. Late at night.
I suppose the answer would change at times. It’s changed for me over the last 15 years since “Titanic” was released in theatres. My response has changed as I have changed.
But I know that the goal is that we become unwaveringly steady even through an explosion, even during an earthquake, through whatever the trauma or disaster is, which is thrown our way.
But most of us are doing our best. The woman who was panicked. Those who ran to gather their possessions, even if in fear.
And so for today I will continue to practice my metta.
May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be strong.
May you be at ease.
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be strong.
May I be at ease.
It goes a long way.
I don’t need to decide who anyone else needs to be in an explosion. Just watch who I am in the eye of the storm. Keep at it all of the time. Without judgment.
Hope it gets easier. Hope we all find our way.
In, with, and from blessing.