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Photo by Adam Bixby on Unsplash

The Tracks We Choose To Follow

Do you ever sit on a train and think about how the tracks are a perfect metaphor for life? I do. I watch them as they merge and branch off, and I wonder where those branches go and if I’ll ever go down them. I think about how the network is like life in that it can take you pretty much anywhere. Sometimes the route is simple and direct, other times it’s circuitous and involves lots of chopping and changing. Sometimes you want to take the direct route but are instead forced to take the circuitous one. Sometimes you might want to take the circuitous route but are whisked straight to your destination on a train too fast for your liking. And sometimes the supposedly direct route actually ends up taking forever due to unforeseen circumstances.

If the tracks represent life and all its possibilities, then the trains themselves represent people. There will be times when other trains’ routes coincide with yours, and other times when they don’t. Sometimes you are just chugging along by yourself, maybe happily, maybe not so happily. And then another train comes veering out of nowhere, or perhaps one of you saw the other in the distance and hurried to catch up. Either way your tracks align, and you run alongside each other for a while, keeping pace perfectly. It’s exhilarating, this joint exploration, but it seldom lasts. Sometimes your companion train will pull away from you, or get held up at a signal. Sometimes it swerves off in a different direction altogether, down a line you may or may not have seen coming. And you will be left wondering why your route was lacking, and where they are now, and whether they are having a better time than they ever had with you. You will wish you could double back and follow them, but the tracks only go one way. On.

You will see many other trains on the journey to your destination, but only a few will align their tracks with yours. Some are nothing more than distant blurs on the horizon, careering towards a station whose name you can only guess at. These are the fast trains, the ones everyone admires and tries to emulate. But being a fast train is exhausting. Sometimes it’s better to slow down, take in the scenery, enjoy the journey and trust that you will arrive at your destination eventually.

Sometimes you see a train languishing on the horizon, so far away they couldn’t possibly catch you up. You pay them little heed and continue on your way, safe in the knowledge that you have an enormous head start. But then you hear a whistling, the rush of air being sliced, and the train that was lagging behind comes streaking past you and hurtles off up the tracks. You watch it go, wondering how such a slow train could have built up that much speed while you weren’t looking.

Some trains are cautious. They spend their lives going back and forth along the same route, rolling over familiar ground and never branching off. Many are content to do so. They like the comfort, the certainty of knowing what is coming. Others do it because they are too scared. Their desired destination lies at the end of another line, but the line itself looks long and treacherous, and so they never pluck up the courage. They just keep going back and forth, resenting the landscape they have seen a thousand times before, but unwilling to do anything about it. There’s no helping those trains. You cannot physically shunt them onto another line, although you wish you could. They have to make the switch themselves.

Me, I’m one of the adventurous trains. If I don’t like a line, I’ll switch to a different one, even if that line looks terrifying. The incline might look too steep, or the bends too sharp, or maybe it cuts through dense woodland that is sure to scrape me as I go by. I do it anyway, because I know it’s the only way to reach my destination. Often the scariest journeys are the ones most worth making-they spirit you to places so spectacular you’ll wish you’d gone sooner. On the way you discover that the incline is less steep than you thought, the bends are manageable, and the scrapes are easily mended. Those who don’t make the journey will never find that out. It’s sad, but it’s their choice. We are all on our own journey. Where we go and which tracks we follow-that is entirely up to us.

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