So, we’ve finally gotten some news, just a shred of it, about what we might be doing in a couple months, and just like that, this period of transition might be coming sort of to an end. There is still a lot of uncertainty about places and timing, but just knowing that there is an end date has already changed this place where we’ve been. It’s a little more solid with a few more answers, and a few hazy future milestones are starting to come into focus.
These wide open spaces of transition like we’ve been in, of the not knowing anything about where we’ll be or what we’ll be doing, are specific and important parts of our lives, and often, I think, we try to minimize them as much as possible. We try to limit them, we begrudge the fact that there is nothing on the horizon and no direction that we can find. It gets long and lonely and we can’t see a way out, it stretches before us so open that we cannot see a place to turn, and pretty soon we start to resent it, we start to feel like we shouldn’t be here after all, that something should have been done to cut down on this time, because it’s confused and messy and not having answers is uncomfortable.
Being back on the mainland has meant many things. It’s meant more potatoes than rice, more cold spring days than beach days. But what it’s really meant is that the transitions are longer; the settling back into old ways but also the time it takes to travel, simply because places are and can be farther apart. And I’ve been very annoyed at the travel time. I don’t like time spent in the car; I’d rather get to a place right now. But the other day, when we went to the train museum, I was reminded of the importance of travel.
It turns out that the biggest train museum in the whole country, the Illinois Railway Museum, is located just a few minutes from here. We went the other day, and the boys ran gleefully around and around the trains, up the stairs and through them, peeking in and out of windows, carefully examining all the various crossing guard models.
The boys were just excited to be there, but what I was noticing was that even amidst the old cracked fabric and dirty windows, even in the dusty air and on the floors that have solidified into mostly grime, these old trains had something that maybe we’ve forgotten in our new models of trains and airplanes where only economy matters, where our legroom keeps getting cut and the meals are switched to peanuts and the peanuts are switched to nothing, and money always has to be saved and it doesn’t matter if we cut the money from travel, because, we think, the travel doesn’t matter, it’s only the destination.
We’ve forgotten the glamour in the transition, and we’ve started thinking that if only we get to the end, it doesn’t quite matter how we get there. That as long as the plane lands in Pheonix or Toronto or Kyoto, the transition has done its job. But that’s not quite true, is it? Because it forgets the value inherent in the moving of one place to another, in the preparation for the next thing, in the exercise of keeping our mind and options open. That’s the thing that we’ve tried to remember this whole period of our lives, that there is no shame in being in between something, that the only shame that can happen is if we never reach the next thing, and that we are allowed to decide when the right time is to find that next thing.
When we were in Okinawa my car broke down about six months after we got it. Everyone expressed their sadness with me and then every time I saw them, would ask if I got a new car, where it was, and why I didn’t have it yet. I wasn’t stressed about getting a new car, I was looking around and weighing my options and feeling fine with the little extra work of taking Joe to work each day. But as everyone else kept thinking it was the most important thing to find the next car, I started to think so too.
It has been the same with this place in our lives. We have been fine (mostly, we have a few days where we’ve let the worry in) with the decision not to look for jobs or places or anything else until we were out of the military for a few months. We knew the search would probably take 4-6 months. But as we started to have to keep telling people the same news, that there was no news, we started to care about the things we said we wouldn’t worry about; we started to think that something might be wrong.
So I’m going to say this again, for me, because I had been starting to forget: there is no disgrace in transition. There is no embarrassment in not knowing the next thing. There is no humiliation in not being able to lay out your life in straight paths with all the milestones marked. When it comes down to it, when we rush the time in between the major points in our lives, we miss something. And that’s what I saw on these train cars. There were luxury dining cars, long menus, and everything that went into making the passengers feel like they were on a journey, and that that journey was something to be respected in and of itself.
And that, I think, is why we romanticize the old days of trains so much in our books and memories. These people got to see the scenery, they got to pass the world by and maybe have a cup of tea in the meantime. The next station always arrives, the next phase of our lives always materializes, and the shame is never in the travel. It’s only in the refusal to move.