Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

Night Train

May 2, 2009

This blog post on BraveNewTraveler really touched me. In fact, it shot bolts of lighting down my back. When we think about the risks of traveling, we’re usually concerned with practical matters like health, money, and safety. But there are other risks involved. There’s the risk that the experience will change us in an irreversible way; we will come home a changed person. People may not recognize us. People may question our ethics, call us fake, try to bring us back to the real world. But this change we experience may be permanent. When we travel, especially when we travel alone, we are going on a psychological journey as much as we’re going on a physical journey. We meet people, and in those fleeting conversations we share with drunk philosophers on a night train may begin a catastrophic slippery slope of self-examination.

I recall a moment I had several months before the night train. It was my first week in London, and I’d gone out to a goth club with a few new British friends. They all flaked out by the end of the night and left, victims of too much drink and and too many strobe lights. I had to get home on my own. Trying to navigate home after the Tube is closed is not just a terrifying experience, but it is also a deep sociological moment. People are animals, and at three in the morning on a night bus, we can truly experience the carnal nature of human beings first-hand. It changes our perception of humanity. It scares the living daylights out of us, yes, but it also reveals our own mettle; being a stranger in a strange land gives us balls. There are certain things that still scare me: bees, heights, and people. But as I travel from place to place, my fear of people mutates. While the fear of people and what they are capable has not diminished, I am also aware of their capacity to seek fellowship in strange situations.

I was on a night train coming back from Barcelona to Paris. I was utterly alone. A victim of insomnia and the earth-shattering tremors of fear, I stared out the window as Spain at midnight rushed by, a kaleidoscope of dimly lit shacks and power lines. The majestic Spanish countryside was masked under an impenetrable shade of black.The door of the train car opened. An old man dressed in a cycling suit hobbled towards me and asked in a thick British accent if I spoke English. The world broke. I smiled and laughed. It was an incredible relief. He asked if I knew what station the train was going to pull into; I knew Paris very well by this point, so I pulled out my map and gave him a little tour of the city. The rest of the night we smoked cigars and drank whiskey. I learned a lot from the old man; he cycled from Paris down to Barcelona–on his own. He was a remarkable human being. At the end of our conversation, I asked if I could take his picture. He agreed, and now I have a photograph of an old, eccentric Englishman on my computer. A man who was my savior on that lonely and terrifying night.

Thanks, Chris.