Over twenty-one years ago I was on an Amtrak train on the way to Los Angeles. I was underweight from not eating enough and living on caffeine, I was on two kinds of medicine to stop heart palpitations and tachycardia (stress-induced), and I was exhausted. I was producing and hosting daily controversy on the Crosstalk Radio Talk Show, a daily local show called Homefront and filling in sometimes on the issues TV program, In Focus. At the same time, I was raising two little boys in a very difficult situation as a single parent. I sat on that crowded Amtrak train, thundering through the darkness, and I had an epiphany, one of those moments when your mind reveals in a flash what needs to be done.
In the middle of Illinois, on a cold January night, I got off the train in a small town at a brief train stop. I saw a sign for a Days Inn out the window, got my purse, and coat and got off the train. Really. I didn’t need to take the trip. I didn’t need to be on a dirty Amtrak train. I didn’t need more stress at the other end of the trip at a convention. What I needed was someone to say kindly to me, “Slow down, stop, this isn’t good for you. You’re killing yourself. Go home, put on your slippers, make some tea, and smile a bit with your kids.” So I got off the train.
After I left my radio job in 2011, I knew that certain stories were being circulated to explain my sudden departure. I learned a few days ago that this funny train story was one of them, told with a malicious spin. It occurred to me the other day that “getting off the train” is an apt metaphor for what we often need to do in life.
We thunder down the tracks in a specific direction, never questioning what we’re doing, assuming our presuppositions are correct and right for us, not realizing that something is out of whack. At times like that, we need to evaluate our situation, and if necessary, get off the train. Getting off the train is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and clarity.
Many times in life, others will not protect you. They will use you until you collapse in a heap, and then they will walk away, shaking their heads at how you didn’t measure up. That’s why, with God’s help, internal evaluations of our own lives and priorities is crucial. We can’t count on others, even those physically closest to us, to do the job for us. It’s wonderful when they do act and guide in our best interests out of real love. But ultimately, we need to do the job ourselves and ask the Lord for honesty and humility in self-evaluation.
There is a time to stay on a train until it reaches its destination. As I jumped off onto that platform in Illinois, however, I knew I had made the right choice to get off, and I still laugh at my audacity and nerve at doing the right thing, even while being judged as a nutcase. Do what is best for your life and soul and don’t sweat the labels! Just smile, and find your way home.