Thursday, March 4, 2010

Train Rides

Have you ever wondered how people get from point A to point B? Now I don't mean in a physical mileage way, but in an emotional way. 

We all take in our surroundings and make decisions based upon the way we see things happening. Then when we get to a certain point in our life we take an inventory of how we are doing. Sometimes we are relatively satisfied, and other times we are disappointed, but do we ever really reflect upon the decisions we made that ultimately got us to point B?

I guess we might if we realize we are dissatisfied with our lot in life, but do we ever revisit those moments and try to undo the damage we did by our wayward conclusions. Or do we instead attempt to revise our opinion of our place in society that has us where we are at any given moment? 

Often times I find myself looking at my surroundings and wondering what would be different had I not missed a stop at Mannheim Germany, 26 years ago when my buddy and I were taking a Train Ride back to our unit.

 We were over 500 kilometers from Mannheim and roll call was at 6:00 am.  So we had no choice but to board the train for a 5 hour ride, while hoping we wouldn't get stopped by the authorities who had already arrested our friends at the border of Netherlands. 

After we settled into our seats, I silently stared out the window wondering why I allowed myself to get talked into such a risky deal. In the distance I could see small lights beyond the darkness, but they just seemed to highlight my reflection in the window as I pondered what life in Germany prison might be like. My head felt it was frozen in a position that I couldn’t turn away from. All I could think to say to Mike’s constant ranting and murmuring was the single phrase, “Uhuh.”

I don’t really know how long I looked out the window before I fell asleep, but I was surprised when the conductor nudged my shoulder and woke me up. It took a few moments before I realized what he was trying to tell me. My German wasn’t great but it was good enough to understand that the train had reached its final destination and we had to get off. While rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I asked him where we were and what time it was. Unfortunately, his reply was not what I wanted to hear.

He told us we were in Speyer as he waved us towards the doors. We grabbed our only possessions, a small paper bag of dried bread with a half-empty bottle of soda water, and headed for the exit. I looked at Mike and saw the same sleepy look in his eyes, as he must have saw in mine. The conductor either failed to tell me what the time was or my brain never registered his answer. It didn’t much matter though, because the position of the sun told me we already missed roll call. 

As we got off the train, I saw a big clock above the train station entrance. It was 6:45, we had not only missed our stop by almost 25 kilometers, but we also missed roll call by almost an hour. Walking out the station doors and looking at the quite town of Speyer, I felt Mike's hand grab my shoulder as he pulled me to his side. With my body tilted awkwardly towards him he hooked his arm around my neck, and stated in a matter of fact voice that was on the verge of laughter, “Clarence? I do believe we are AWOL”.

With those words still echoing in my head, Mike and I began a journey that would take us from Southern Germany to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. What started off as a trip to Amsterdam to buy a kilo of hashish, ended up with us being “Absent With Out Leave” from the US Army.

Before we headed on our journey to anywhere but Mannheim, we decided aliases would be needed for our adventure. I chose the name Chuck that was originally given to me in school by a kid who could not pronounce Clarence. Mike chose the name Dave, because it was the name of his favorite Uncle. When we eventually returned for our punishment a little over a Month later, Dave became Mike again. While I liked my new name so much that I decided to keep it. So now you know how a person gets, Chuck, as a nickname out of Clarence.

That's was a time in my life when I experienced many things, some of which would never happen again. To start with I turned 18; picked grapes during the harvest in France for a veteran of WWII who fought against the Nazis with the French Underground; lived in a cave of a cliff wall above the Mediterranean Sea of which we went skinny dipping in (it was cold that day); watched the movie, "The Exorcist", for my first time that was dubbed in French, and even saw Brigitte Bardot get out of a limousine in front of a nice restaurant in Marseilles France.

  I would eventually pay for my wayward act of taking an extended vacation without permission, but in the end I wound up with an honorable discharge two years later when my enlistment, plus make up time was up. For better or for worse, I grew up quite a bit during those 45 of being AWOL. I stopped being a follower of others and instead began making my own way as I paved a new path for my future. 

Oh I still did some pretty stupid things for awhile afterwards, but I slowly began putting aside many of the immature thoughts and actions which until then were only holding me back from the potential God gave me.

Today as I look back at point A, I wonder what would be different had I not fallen asleep while I was on that train ride back to Mannheim? Well, to start with, I would probably still be going by the name of Clarence. The rest I will leave for another day of reflection.


  1. Hmmmm, cute story, well I can't reciprocate with a story mirroring the circumstances and I'm sure subsequent drama of the AWOL life. But um seems there are probably thousands of situations like that in regards to how we met our wives, or how our parents got married, our kids etc. or our jobs. All with circumstances that fall like domino's slowly careening (if thats a word) from its inception to a seemingly radically different ending. Mardee, my wife in heaven, used to say, “there are no coincidences”, and if that is true, then one see's the Divine hand of God. If it isn't true and situations just happen, then one still see's the Divine hand in it all working. Romans 8:28 (if you're in Christ) and if you're not in Christ then it is indeed just headed to no hope.

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