Today I’m taking part in a one-day blog series about travel, hosted by Prodigal Mag. Do you have a travel story? Feel free to post them on your blog throughout the week and link back to our host page!
Copenhagen in November is the most boring city on the planet.
For the second time, we were stranded, standing in the wrong station at the right time while our train left without us from the other side of the city.
It was All Saints Day, and the train we should have been on 24 hours before was full with families traveling to celebrate, and we foreigners watched it pull away, dejected and bored to be stuck in a cold and quiet city where every shop and restaurant and museum was closed.
We realized our mistake and exchanged tickets yet again, shelled out more Euro to cover the difference. We had only planned to be in Copenhagen for one day, but we were stuck there for three. Our 10-day Nordic adventure had only just begun and six cities suddenly felt like a foolish plan.
I sat down and pulled out my travel journal, let my thoughts wander to another missed train and a phone call a few months before.
On the way back from a weekend at the family lake house, my aunt got a speeding ticket.
We were already running behind schedule, having lingered a little too long at the house, drinking coffee and chatting about marriage and what it meant to be wives and partners, and where each of us were headed. I was headed to Europe in a month. Two of my cousins would get married before I left, I would be married to Matt a year later, and the other two were in serious relationships that would one day be marriages, too.
It was a weekend we had set aside for just us girls, the Droscha women : our mothers, who had married into the family, and their daughters, whose blood ran thick with their love. None of us really wanted the weekend to end, knowing that from here on out, things would be different – a series of weddings and babies and who knows when we would do this again, but if we ever got the chance we would return changed in deep and unexpected ways.
I had a train to catch back to Chicago and my aunt was going well over the speed limit to try and make it to town before 4:37 p.m. Amtrak was always late; we would make it.
We watched in agony through the rear view mirrors as the cop walked to her window. All of us sat silently, watching her argue with him and try to fashion a loophole from thin threads of truth – “we are running late, I’m sorry, Officer, I think my speedometer is faulty, no, I didn’t realize I was going 80 in a 55.”
Our margin of time slipped away from us. The train was on time and we missed it completely.
Hours later than planned, my father drove me to the station to catch the next Amtrak from Battle Creek to Chicago.
“How do you think mom is doing?”
My voice broke into the silence, trying to make conversation, trying to get past that unsayable thing that always seemed to intercept the words we really wanted to say to the other.
He didn’t answer right away.
“I think she feels a lot more than she lets on,” he finally responded.
I asked him what he meant.
And so the conversation went – my question, his answer – like the brittle skins and bitter layers of an onion slowly peeled away, revealing something deeper, stronger, that thing neither of us had told the other before, until we were crying. He pulled over to the side of the road to dry his eyes and tell me that we would be okay, his large, rough hands on my neck, thumbs wiping tears from my cheeks.
It was the first time in 10 years that either of us had talked to each other about mom’s cancer.
The sunset peeked through the low hanging branches of maples that lined the dirt road we drove. In my deep sorrow and peace at knowing this secret we didn’t want to tell anyone – that we knew what would happen and knew it together – I wanted to worship God for missing my train and giving my aunt a speeding ticket.
“Honey, I have something to tell you,” she said.
The familiar phrase elicited an instant, gut-sinking dread. While I had been off wandering the Alps and making plans to visit Rome and Berlin and Paris, she had been making frequent trips to the oncologist. She shared her recent test results – “spread to my organs and soft tissue ” – talked about the impending chemo treatments – “it’s better than last time, side effects aren’t as severe, I’ll still have my hair.”
I cried alone in the bathroom for an hour or two, where my roommates couldn’t see my puffy face, where I could stare at my naked body in the mirror and wonder whether it would betray me, too, and where my life was headed.
Where are you going with this, God?
Monday, November 3, 2008.
City : Copenhagen. Still.
“Most unfortunate happenstance. We are stuck in Copenhagen for another full day. We leave tonight for Stockholm, but a misunderstanding with the ticket master made us miss the fact that our train left from another station. We arrived at the right time, wrong station. Our new reservations will take us away from Copenhagen at 6 this evening and will get us to Stockholm at 11 p.m. Because we made reservations for a train from Stockholm to Oslo tomorrow morning, we won’t be able to spend any time in Stockholm. We won’t even get to see it in daylight, which is really disappointing. I’m sure there’s more to His side of the story, than our simple mistakes…
I just think that sometimes, missing trains is God’s way of sending us down a different track, for the better journey and the better destination.”
I had one prayer when I left for Europe, that God would go before me, unravel the road so that my feet and heart would follow Him. It is surprising how specifically He answers these prayers of ours, how four years later, I can look back and see that road unraveled – the trains missed and the tracks taken instead.
I am still traveling toward Him and who He’s called me to be.
Sometimes I go back and reread that journal, filled with ancient dust and the thoughts of a girl a world away, a girl on the cusp of an unplanned adventure. If travel taught me anything, it taught me to let go of the plan and the destination in search for the better journey.
Have you ever missed a train? Where did you wind up? What are you learning from the journey?