I rode the Amtrak train from Chicago to Elkhart last night. This experience was lackluster compared to my Thanksgiving enchantment on the rails. First, Union Station was bustling with locals traveling to holiday destinations and dejected Chicago Bear fans returning to the ‘burbs. I avoided the over-crowded food court knowing that there was a dining car on my train. Unfortunately in my naivete, I didn’t know reservations were required to eat in it. Then, I realized the train didn’t have wifi. Oh and worst of all, I was sitting next to “Rain Man.”
An elderly guy was slouching in his window chair and very definitely had his leg over the invisible line between our seats. When I arrived, he was playing his electronic game with the audio on. Beep. beep. beep. beep. Although my irritation was heightening, I still had the delusion I would be leaving my seat mate for the dining car. I anticipated a “North by Northwest” encounter with a Cary Grant type. I decided I didn’t need to slap or say anything to the clueless geek. For one, no one wants to be told that they are annoying. And second, I wasn’t staying. I could and would bide my time.
While I waited for the conductor to check my ticket, the guy put away the noisemaker to read a book. I basked in relief… short-term. He started flipping pages rapidly… maybe twenty. Then, he’d go back to the original page and read it. After awhile, he turned the page and then performed the flipping activity again. It was a ritual and was repeated and repeated and repeated. I had an early career stint working with people with disabilities. My former professional diagnostic guess would be autistic. And when he became flustered and unable to simply show his ticket to the conductor upon request, I felt pretty sure I was right.
I decided to actively practice quiet kindness. This gentleman was challenged with the misfortune of a disability. I had to live with his quirks and ticks for two hours. He had to live with them forever.
INTERCOM ANNOUNCEMENT: People with 7pm reservations are now welcome to the dining car. Only people with reservations.
I breathed in positive energy and exhaled irritation.
After all I had just seen Steppenwolf’s “Airline Highway,” a play about people that hadn’t had my advantage. Hookers and strippers trying to just survive. They cobbled together a transient community out of mutual destitution, drugs and self-loathing. The powerful gut puncher was a weird send-off for my holiday vacation in Myrtle Beach.
I’m also reading Amy Poehler’s “YES, PLEASE!” In one chapter, she talks about her normal childhood. She grew up in a middle class home with two loving parents. As she says, “when you have a comfortable and loving middle class family, sometimes you yearn for a dance on the edge. This can lead to an overactive imagination, but it is also the reason why kids in Montana do meth.” And Amy confesses she is addicted to dramatic events on the internet aka “tragedy porn.”
So what do Rain Man, Amy Poehler, and hookers have to do with me?? Life is a hodge-podge of experiences and lessons. Here’s my muddled intersection. I don’t know what it’s like to have a disability. Other than my personal budgeting mandates, I’ve never gone without. I’ve always had food and shelter and clothing. And I’ve never had to sell myself or drugs or my integrity to meet my most basic needs. I’m Amy Poehler except without the fame and fortune. I’m not addicted to tragedy porn but I can make teeny instances into major dramas. I practice not allowing my thirst for excitement and adventure to manifest into human theatrics. I choose peace for myself. I work on letting go of the negativity and staying calm.
To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. – Buddha