Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Train, Train: The Best Life Metaphor Ever?

The other day, my best friend shared with me what might be the most effective metaphor I've heard in years. It's right up there with my friend Deirdre's great metaphorical declaration from the '90s, directed primarily to all the boys she'd loved before: "I live on a one-way street, so traffic goes in one direction past my house. Once you drive by, there's no turning back."

But I was an angrier, younger man then. I preferred my life analogies, like I did my shots of tequila: with a dash of salt and a twist of sour. Ah, drunken, misspent youth!

I think you have to be older and wiser to fully appreciate this latest metaphor/analogy, making it similar to the idea (first presented to me by the late, great Barry White) that if -- when -- a relationship doesn't last forever, it isn't automatically rendered a "failed" one. This current epiphany-inducing life analogy didn't actually come directly from my BFF but rather from a mutual former colleague who has loved and lost enough to know what she's talking about. She compared life to a journey by train. Not everyone comes along for the entire ride to your final destination. Some hop on. Some hop off (by choice or by circumstances that don't necessarily involve death).

Occasionally, some hop back on, possibly more than once, like the repeating refrain of a rondo. Oops, wrong analogy. Life is a song, too, and a dance, but right now that analogy doesn't have quite the same musical ring as the one involving trains. Then again, for me, it always comes back to songs (see the title of this post, the videos at the end and the chapter titles of my forthcoming book).

Meanwhile, back on that train... Pack lightly (the less baggage, the happier) and prepare yourself for rough tracks (rail turbulence), solo stretches and the possibility of reaching the end of your journey alone. OK, I added that last sentence, but as a so-called "world traveler" who is usually a party of one, what would any journey be without at least a carry-on and single-occupancy accommodation, the latter of which is good to look forward to during touches of turbulence? It's always better to travel, though, when the bulk of your baggage is checked, and you've got enough space in your crash pad for unexpected company. (You never know when someone is going to hop back on, or stay longer than expected.)

I've never been a social pack rat, or one inclined to hang on to relationships past their expiration dates. That said, I've gotten better at not burning bridges completely. In my twenties and thirties, I rarely let a relationship end without one this-is-why-you're-an-asshole email, which had the same effect as "defriending" someone on Facebook or "unfollowing" them on Twitter or Instagram, if not "blocking" them entirely. (Is it me, or is social media largely about making insecure people feel even more like crap, and making break-ups and dissolved relationships even harder to bear?) Now I'm able to let go without fanfare.

Unfortunately, I still haven't mastered the art of not feeling as if every disembarkment is somehow my fault and my responsibility. Regret is normal, but I still insist on experiencing pangs of guilt over people who've hopped off and haven't hopped back on, and more of it for not jumping off myself and chasing after them. By helping me to put it all into perspective, this new train of thought is giving me brave new hope. Choo-choo!

6 Great Train Songs

"Trains and Boats and Planes" Dionne Warwick



"Midnight Train to Georgia" Gladys Knight and the Pips



"Another Journey By Train" The Cure



"Slow Train" Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead



"Train, Train" Dolly Parton



"The Train I Ride" Alison Moyet


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