She wasn’t wearing any makeup, as far as I could tell, and was as beautiful as nature intended her to be. She seemed friendly and wise beyond her years, the type of person who’d know exactly which train I should take. She exemplified, in my eyes, the definition of purity and elegance. She wore a pretty sun hat that matched her flowing white dress. Something about her set her apart from the other commuters at the station. For one, she wasn’t in a rush. She stood still, holding two books in her hand.
I’ll never forget that chance encounter because her guidance set me on a path that led to inner peace and a zest for life I didn’t know existed. Life before our encounter had included a series of broken relationships, financial anxiety and a time bomb of health issues that was about to explode any minute. The company to which I had dedicated thirty-five years of my life was closing down and the savings I had accumulated were invested with a businessman who turned out to be a fraudster. My marriage of twenty years had produced two beloved children but ended in a bitter divorce. I needed help and, as fate would have it, she appeared unexpectedly with guidance that would change my life forever. I was nervous about approaching her but felt at ease the moment she turned to me with a twinkle in her eye and a bright smile on her face.
“You’re lost, aren’t you?” she said.
“Excuse me,” I said, a little confused. “Do you know which train I should take in order to acquire the same sense of peace and grace you clearly project?”
She rolled her eyes and, in a soft voice, said, “My dear, that train’s available to anybody who surrenders to their heart.”
“Surrenders to their heart?” I repeated curiously.
She giggled. “Yes. It’s a feeling I hope you’ll come to experience one day.”
I nodded and pulled out the ticket stub from my previous train ride.
She recognized it instantly. “Looks like you were on the ‘fast and more’ train,” she said.
She assured me I wouldn’t have to purchase another ticket for the remaining part of my journey and told me to pursue a life path that wasn’t as fast as the previous train I was on. I was still confused but figured that “slow and less” could symbolize the direction my life would be taking.
“Is that all?” I asked with a bit of trepidation.
“One more thing,” she added. “Tell me what you see when you look into my eyes.”
I hadn’t expected to hear that but I went ahead and gazed into her eyes. Time seemed to dissolve into eternity. I felt an overwhelming sense of serenity. To my surprise, I heard myself saying, “Beauty.”
She smiled and said, “Just know that when your heart begins to see beyond the reach of your eyes, your life will change forever.”
I wondered what she meant but didn’t ask and, instead, just said, “Thank you.”
Suddenly she was gone. I waited patiently on the crowded platform as various trains arrived and departed. Eventually, I decided to take a chance and board the train that had just arrived in the station, no matter where it was going. It stood out from most of the others I had taken in my life. It seemed to move slower and didn’t make as much noise. Yellowish with unusually large windows, it didn’t look as modern as the other trains. I was intrigued and didn’t hesitate for a moment to board it.
I was carrying a small handbag with a few essentials: reading glasses, a bottle of water, and two notepads. As I climbed on board, I was greeted by a friendly lady who evidently worked on the train. You could tell that she absolutely loved her job.
“Welcome,” she said with a beautiful smile. “I have the perfect compartment for you.”
I knew I was in good hands and followed her down the spacious and well-lit corridor. As she walked, she seemed to be dancing. Some people have musical personalities and she was clearly one of them. We arrived at the end of the corridor and she pointed to my compartment on the left-hand side.
“Here it is,” she said. “Enjoy the trip.”
I entered and was astonished. That part of the carriage had ten comfortable tanned seats positioned around a thick wooden table. The seats could be adjusted to recline and rotate. It was an unusual layout but one that encouraged passengers to interact with each other. There were four other seats, one in each corner of the compartment, for passengers who wanted a little more privacy.
I already knew that this trip was going to be different. This time I intended to savor the journey and keep a diary of everything I heard and saw. I settled into the seat beside the window, took a sip from my water bottle and proceeded to pull out my notepad. Across the top of the blank page I wrote, “Slow and Less.” As I did on every trip, I thought of my mother, who, at the beginning of every journey, would pinch three fingers, as chefs do when sprinkling salt over food, and make the sign of the cross three times. It was a silent gesture of gratitude, one I knew that would also keep me safe on my own journey if I kept the faith.
As I settled down, I looked around and noticed that everyone seemed visibly happier than the stressed-out passengers on the express trains I had been traveling on throughout most of my adult life. They emanated an upbeat aura, a positive energy which reaffirmed that I was heading in the right direction. I sighed as my thoughts flashed back to one particular day in my childhood. It was one of those recurring memories of the time when I was a carefree teenager, basking in the sun on a beach nestled between white majestic cliffs and a calm blue ocean, a playground fit for kings and queens, who were known to have actually frequented that very spot thousands of years ago. In fact, remnants of their lives were still visible as ancient castle ruins not far from the beach. I remember how being there was the closest thing to pure bliss that I had ever experienced. Only one thing could complete it: ice cream!
I was in luck. A friend’s father happened to pull up in a pink and blue ice cream van. He owned an ice cream factory and spent long summer afternoons trawling the beach, handing out scoops of joy to the children and adults scattered along the shoreline. We exchanged pleasantries while he prepared my favorite flavor: a double scoop of dark chocolate. I thanked him and savored each lick before the ice cream had a chance to melt down my fingers. Finally, all that was left was the crown jewel: the tip of the cone. It was delicious. I was so caught up in my treat that I didn’t realize that the ice cream man was still standing there.
His voice startled me, as did what he said: “Young man, enjoy it because life ends as quickly as an ice cream.”
For some reason, those words struck a chord I have never got out of my head. Decades have passed since that unforgettable summer day but it feels like yesterday. I’d hear the ice cream man’s words over and over again throughout my life. Anyone over the age of fifty seemed to be telling me, in his or her own way, to be grateful and appreciate every moment as if it were the last one.
I wasn’t aware of it on that brilliant summer day but time has a way of catching up and leaving random clues along the way. It can be a wrinkle that appears on your forehead or your precious daughter starting to go on dates. As the train began to move, I caught myself thinking about the transient nature of life and wondered how it could serve as a wake-up call, a reminder to appreciate every moment, including the difficult ones we face. I knew that life was no easy ride but I was determined to make the best of this trip. I grabbed my pen and wrote that I wanted it, as a new chapter in my life, to lead to personal growth, self-discovery and spiritual awareness.