Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 01/17/2019

The train is a small world…

39202445The train is a small world moving through a larger world.  – Elisha Coope

I recently rode the train from Kansas City to St. Louis.  A quick, no-stress five-hour and forty-minute ride. No crazy drivers to contend with, no detours, no work zones with double the fines, no stops for gas or snacks (I’m a big believer in snacks — I’m like a twelve-year old with ten dollars in a 7-Eleven!)  I was traveling solo, so I had lots of time to gaze out the window of the “Missouri River Runner.”

We certainly have no lack of cornfields in Kansas and Missouri.  But I also got a glimpse into what could be considered the underbelly of the Midwest landscape, depending on the mile marker, a series of staccato snapshots.

I saw lots of newly-harvested farmland, and the Missouri River. Interspersed were some cows.  My NYC background certainly doesn’t make me an expert on bovine-behavior, but I believe that there Is a direct correlation between lying-down-cows and impending rain.  I actually asked a real farmer at the Kansas State Fair if there was anything to that old wives’ tale  – while my husband stood by, smug, smirking and eye-rolling.  The farmer rubbed his chin, in the thinking posture and said, “Well, little lady, when cows are lying down, they’re tired.”  The look on my husband’s face was enough to get us a quick, uncontested divorce.  I wasn’t too terribly happy with the farmer either.  Maybe he wasn’t really a farmer, but a faux farmer dressed in overalls.

I saw barns, lot of them.  All in disrepair, with tired red paint, bleached-out siding and caving roofs, abandoned long ago.

We passed a rundown trailer park, clothes lines laden with clothes, little kids running around, too-thin dogs barking and cars being worked on.

There was a razor wire prison, where we warehouse those that just can’t follow the rules. Signs warning to not pick up hitch hikers.

Under concrete bridges, with rebar showing through where the concrete had fallen away.  Gang graffiti, with its splash of color, enhanced the look of this worn out bridge, that begged  for attention. Along the tracks, a scattering of teens, who on this weekday, non-holiday should have been in a classroom somewhere.

We passed several homeless camps.  Down-on-their-luck human beings who just couldn’t find the resources, wherewithal, or motivation to seek shelter.  Many , if the statistics are right, with significant mental health issues..

All this with the background noise of a hissing train engine that slowed  and sped up as we chugged our way into to small towns.  And always, preceding our arrival, the sound of the train’s whistle, a mournful sound.

So, what’s the takeaway?  This is probably a microcosm of what ails our society.  The prison, not about rehabilitating, but sticking men and women in a cage. Human beings who are treated no better than animals.  Teens wandering the railroad tracks.  Besides tacking a truant label on them, can we not find out the why?  What’s the why? Is there no adult that even cares they’re not In school?  Is there not one single teacher in the school building who would take an interest in a kid who’s lagging behind, struggling, sporadically showing up and then disappearing for days at a time?  Just think, if every single teacher in the United States – 3.6 million of them, took an interest in just one kid….the difference could be staggering. No need to even do the math.

Our country is vast, diverse, terrific.  But there is room for compassion, room tor every one of us to roll up our shirtsleeves and do a little more.  Just a little.  I’ve worked with the homeless for a long time, and I still can’t get my head around homelessness.  It’s both a lifestyle and a mindset.  They would joke with me,”Hey, I have no car to worry about fixing, no Visa bill to pay, no electric bill, just what I can carry with me.”  But what they didn’t say was that there is no safety, no respite for whatever weather is thrown at them and strangers for companions.  Most of the time, family that has long ago discarded them in disgust.

Come on, America.  Do something.

Before the train leaves the station.

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