The Legend of Joe Black
Lately I have been thinking about trains. I have been listening to train songs and imagining all that comes with slow and sure progress. How the work that makes a trip on a train possible, is done with so little effort by those that profit from their being purchased. Hobos, engineers, conductors, passengers, conglomerates, rail workers. They have all flooded my mind.
So many great events in history have begun with trains. Mahatma Gandhi made his decision to fight injustice after being kicked off of a train. Trains were packed with those of the Jewish faith and hauled to extermination camps during WWII. Woody Guthrie fought fascism with a guitar he carried as he hopped from car to car on trains. Whether it is Ozzy’s “Crazy Train”, Cat Stevens “Peace Train”, or the the train Johnny Cash claimed was bound for glory, trains have been in our collective minds for as long as they have been riding the rails.
My father tells a story about when the first train ran past his childhood home. As the whistle announcing its late night passing blew, those that lived in and around the farms believed, if only for a moment, that angels were announcing the return of Christ. There are no thoughts of religion as trains come through now. Rarely does anyone even notice the cry of trains rolling by.
These days, trains are mostly considered an inconvenience for those trying to cross railroad tracks. Commuters tune in to their radios, dive into their cell phones, or drift off in thought to pass the time. Rarely noticing the hazardous material or explosive chemicals being carted through their towns. Just another train.
Joe Black was a short, hot tempered, stout, wonderful man. His wife Tess, was everything you would expect of a sweet Southern woman. Each time I saw Joe, I suspected he had just had breakfast with Tess, over coffee, bacon, eggs, gravy and biscuits. They were wonderful people. Though my memory of them fades from time to time, whenever I suspect the world has become as insane as it possibly might, I imagine Joe’s smile.
Joe was a railroad man. I have known a lot of those in my time. If I remember correctly, Joe was an engineer. If you wanted to get at Joe, all you needed to do was call him a conductor. Funny how that works out.
Joe was a family friend for years and he watched me grow up through whatever came my way. One of the milestones of my life, was when I was able to play golf with Joe, Jim Cole, and my father. All good men. All teaching more about life in the three or four hours of hitting a little white ball around a field, than I have ever learned from those that claim to have something worth teaching.
One early morning, as Joe and I waited to begin our match, he looked at me and grinned. We finished up a cup of coffee. I lit a cigarette and he pulled a wad of tobacco out of a pouch. There was fog still lingering on the fairways and there was little hope of knowing where our shots landed. There was always little chance I would know where my shots landed, even in the light of midday. We began to play, regardless of the weather.
I cannot remember our conversation, but I remember that grin. What I learned from those men, often had to do with how they interacted with one another, rather than specific wisdom. They were friends, they enjoyed each others’ company, and there I was, in the mix of it all. Loving every minute.
One thing I remember, is a discussion about an incident on the railroad. The morning paper featured an article about how a vehicle had been hit by a train the day before. As you can imagine, the driver of the car was killed and the engineer survived. The car was totaled, the train was fine.
With a sort of pain in his expression, Joe spoke about how the train had not hit the car. He explained that there is very little, those charged with moving trains from one place to another, are able to do in those situations. There was dismay in his voice as he explained what the engineer of the train would have to go through emotionally, as he dealt with the death of the driver of the car. His grin had left his face, his tone was one of empathy, and we all nodded in agreement.
It was always my suspicion that Joe had dealt with that pain personally. I never found the right time to ask. What would asking do for Joe or me anyway? Sometimes cars and trains collide.
Like so many others that influenced the way I move in this world, Joe Black has passed on. Like so many others that shaped my thoughts and my method of thinking, he left this physical plane. Whether you believe he is in heaven or wandering other realities, I see him in every train that crosses my path. His words come to me in sunsets. His grin finds me when I wonder for serious things.
What I have come to understand, is that not every new sound is the announcement of Armageddon. Not every story you read in the paper is objective. And sometimes, just being with friends is the best lesson of all. There are those who would do you harm, but that has more to do with them, than it does with you.
Our time here is relatively short. We should make time for work, rest, and play. If one of those is getting more attention than another, it might be time to rethink how you approach the day. Nothing will come along, and consider you, more than itself.
Joe Black was a man of faith. At the same time, he was willing to stand up for himself, and those around him. Joe was a guy you would like to have in your prayer chain and also in a street fight. My days of street fighting are over. In fact, they never began.
What I am willing to do in order to help the disenfranchised, those that are mistreated, and the world in general, is gaining steam. Just like a locomotive. Kindness and compassion, smiling in the face of hatred, and using resources to shine a light on injustice, are all tools in my ever expanding box. This is my dharma (story) that needs to be worked out in this physical world.
Your dharma may be different. What you need to do to fulfill your purpose might find other forms. I am rooting for you. The process is what excites me.
Whether we find ourselves a hobo, a ticket salesman, or the head of the corporation that creates railroads, we are all obligated to do our part. How it all works out is up to the Universe. How it all works out is the suspense thriller that fuels our going out and our coming in.
Stay observant, stay focused, keep smiling, and love every moment of the journey. We are all from Source. Everything is a gift from Source. There is only love.