Things in my life sometimes remind me of stories I've read or heard. I read a story once by one of my favourite authors, it was an autobiographical account of an experience he had while living in New York during the 1940s;
'I had a job at a small publishing company and every day I'd get the train to and from my one room apartment in the Bronx. If you regularly travel by train, at pretty regular intervals, you'll find that you see the same people a lot. I saw a man with a dark suit, slick black hair, sallow cheeks and a pointed chin every morning on the 8am train. There was also a small, brunette woman with a brown hat and red gloves who would say hello to me every morning as we took our regular seats. It was on trains that I wrote my first passable stories, the characters I created in my head for these people went on to become , I say with some pride, relatively well known characters.
It was at night though that I saw the people who would affect me most. They are not in any of my books, but they had a profound impact on everything I did subsequently. As I mentioned every night I'd get the train home to the Bronx. While waiting on the train one night I heard a girl laughing across the platform, slightly to my right. I looked over and a young couple were sitting on a bench on the platform. They were laughing and the girl had turned, embarrassed at her outburst. They were not especially beautiful, the couple I mean, but there was something that so attracted me to them I felt I could barely look away. They were holding hands, talking together and occasionally they would laugh loudly again. They passed as much as a half hour like this before the girl glanced at the clock sadly whereupon they embraced tightly and, after making sure no one could see them, kissed. She then got not the train and left. This pattern was repeated every night I stood on the opposite platform. As I said, something about them fascinated me, attracted me, and I admit I wasn't sad when I got to enjoy their company after work for six days a week.
One thing perplexed me. Every night, after his best girl had gotten on the train and the train had left, the boy would take a small book and a pencil from his inside pocket and write in it. His previously pained face would turn into a smile and he would walk down the stairs, head high in the air and a strange spring in his step. I would go back to my one room apartment wondering how this boy could be so merry so soon after the departure of his love.
I was a romantic youth myself and so this vexed me greatly. I wondered at the truth of his affection, so happy he was after his love left him on the platform while she got on the train. Weeks passed and still the same pattern. I found myself trying to write something about these two, but every time I tried it resulted in a blank page, multiple restarts and, inevitably, disingenuous love. He would sleek off to see another lover, or to gamble with his friends or something else that made those smiles and laughs on the train platform a lie.
One day I could stand it no more. I had been wondering and brooding and writing for weeks. I was making coffee for my boss and I decided then; I could not go one more night without knowing the secret of the boy's smile. I was not at my standard place on the platform that night. Instead I waited on the other side, a few feet away from the couple, his notebook and his smile. The standard procedure was followed. They laughed. They held hands. They embraced. They looked at the clock. They embraced still more tightly. They looked around furtively. I stared at my book hard. They kissed. She left and the boy took his notebook out, wrote, smiled and turned to walk away. Instead, I blocked his path.
"Excuse me, sir," my strange accent and my politeness stopped him. His smile remained.
"Me?" he asked, looking around.
"Yeah…" I started to lose confidence. What was I going to ask him? His eyes widened slightly and he leaned forward.
"Yeah?" he asked.
"I was wondering," I decided to be bold, "What's with the book? And the way you smile when your girl leaves?"
He looked completely nonplussed. I had started so I'd better go on.
"It's just I'm here a lot, at the platform I mean, and I see you do the same thing every night."
He was smiling slightly. Is that good or is he laughing at me? I couldn't stop speaking now.
"… then she leaves, your girl I mean, and you get that book and write in it and smile and just about dance your way out of this place. I just..." I realised I was talking quite loudly now, "I just don't get it, you know?"
He was smiling. Definitely laughing at me. He answered me.
"You see that girl? I'm gonna marry her someday," his smile took on a sad air for a second, "I can't give her anything fancy, I've never been able to take her to Paris or Rome or London or anywhere like that. All I can do is go to her work every night, walk her here, hold her hand, make her laugh and then let her leave,"
Now it was my turn to be confused. "The book?" Is all I managed to say. He produced it from his pocket. I saw dates and times.
"Every date and time that we've sat here, holding hands and laughing, is in this book,"
The date of that day 'January 20th 1947' was written at the top of a page. Underneath it read '1733 - 1801' the time they had been together. He continued.
"One day I'll take her to those places and give her fancy things and in fifty years we'll look back on those times and remember how great they were. But, we'll also remember sitting at the train station every night, laughing and holding hands and I don't want to forget a single minute of this. We're not seeing amazing buildings or enjoying exotic places but we're together and that's enough. One day we'll look back and remember how happy we were on these nights and we'll be content that we've loved in good times and loved in hard times, we've had each other through everything and we've laughed on a sunny street in Rome and on a snow covered train platform in New York City. And it isn't because we've had things or money or fancy food, it's because we've spent all the time that we've had falling deeper in love,"
I told him I'd missed my train, which was true enough and he offered to wait. I said thank you and he asked me a number of questions. Normal questions, stuff about my job, where I was from etc. We are friends to this day.
I went back to the Bronx changed. I sat in my room, well, the room, and tried to take in what he had said. Sitting here now I think I get it. I look at the room around me. There are awards, framed book covers, things I have been able to afford with my money, a picture of my daughter graduating from university and a picture of my wife and I in Florence. I love the life I have now. I am thankful to have been blessed with ability and luck. But, the things I wrote and the people I saw during those days in that one room apartment in the Bronx have a special place in my heart. I got to know the writer I wanted to be. It was when I fell in love with literature. It was the the time I became a writer.'
I cannot help but believe that the attitude of the boy at that train station is the same as the attitude of Jesus Christ. So many Christians become disheartened as they read of great heroes of the Bible and believe that they have not done anything. Or they look at people around them and think that they do nothing for God where they are because they don't do the "big stuff". They're not converting hundreds, they're not declaring His Word to millions. Those things are great, but they are not all God desires.
Think of Elijah. He stood against all the false prophets on Mt Carmel. Hundreds of men with good reason to kill him and hate him, and yet Elijah stood tall. God was pleased and remembered him after Elijah demonstrated such faith. But, when Elijah met God, do you think that God remembers any less when Elijah hid in a cave and simply spoke to Him? Do you think God was any less pleased with him?
We are called the bride of Christ and just like the future bride of the man in the story God remembers all the good times. Whether we are doing something amazing and public for Him or whether we are simply taking time to talk to Him, to listen to Him, to enjoy time with Him, to know Him and … to love Him. God remembers the fancy stuff and is pleased. But, never underestimate how much God loves hearing your voice, listening to your joy, feeling your love and holding your hand in the snow …
God bless you.