Friday, September 20, 2013

conducting across generations

I realize much of my writing has been circling around themes of navigation, yet as the words flow, formed letter by letter by the click of my fingers connected to my heart, I can’t help but think of my surrounding journeys taking place.  And the theme must surface once more.

As I lean against the chipped-white, metal billboard supporting my weight and the many maps of London, I am able to look left and right, following the tracks carrying trains which carry passengers swiftly in the direction of our choice.  The rain taps lightly down into a glistening mist, as humans are bundled tight while holding their newspapers and thermoses of hot tea close.  It’s quiet.  The next train isn’t due for another 3 minutes.  Without the hum of the tracks shaking against the mighty vibrations of the train, the stillness in the air creates a gentle environment.  Still not solid on which train I am supposed to get on, I look at the map to my side once more.   How do I know to go left or go right?  How do I know to stand on platform 3 instead of platform 1?  How do I know?  I wonder.

My grandfather worked as a conductor for the Pennsylvania train station, calling out the station stops across the North Philadelphia line.  Growing up with him, if he wasn’t singing his Central High School Alma Mater, he would call out the stops for his grandchildren; giving us a piece of history and chapter to his story.  As a brilliant man who helped build rockets and went on to be the Dean of Engineering at a major university, I knew him as my PopPop Tex, the man who sent me postcards wherever he traveled and kept a picture I drew of him in his wallet.  Before bedtime, my brother and I would read books about trains and have our PopPop call out the stations to us.   “Calling out, Trenton, Newark, New York, Willington, Baltimore, Delaware and Chestnut Hill Local”
As I lean against the chipped-white, metal billboard supporting my weight and the many maps of London, the speaker system announces in a voice ever British, “This is the southern service to Beckham Junction, calling out stops at Peckham Rye, East Dulwich, North Dulwich, Tulse Hill, Streatham.”
Tulse Hill.  That’s my stop.

This summer, I was able to spend cherished time with my grandpa.  The catch: he didn’t know he was spending time with me.  As Alzheimer’s destroys every synapse to his memory, I have become a fluent ever-passing moment in his mind, never to be remembered - but always to be loved.  I was able to watch with awe as he filled his days with blind trust to the kindness in humanity surrounding him.  He relied on questions, trusting the loving strangers sitting close could provide answers, and never held back to express his gratitude.  His thank you, “I’m going to tell you I love you every way I know how.”

As I lean against the chipped-white, metal billboard supporting my weight and the many maps of London, I smile.  I look left and right at the tracks leading the trains, and thank God for conducting me through this life.  For now, I can choose and know which train stop is mine to get to school, but as I think of my grandpa, I’d like to rely on the blind trust of knowing there is a much bigger track I am on, with the diesel’s hum of faith leading the way.  God knows. He knows.  You don’t need no ticket, just thank the Lord.    


  1. Katharine, this is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your honest and thoughtful words! I don't think I can think about simply taking a train again without thinking about the bigger picture. Thank you for this. :)

  2. Katharine
    Thank you for these words. I love your connection to PopPop’s Alzheimer’s and trust. I will always remember his comments the evening this summer when he heard about your YAGM year. He was trying his best to understand and he kept repeating “going to England, for a year, by yourself?” He said, “Well, I’m not going to worry about this. I know you will be great and do good things because I can just tell! And I love you. And I’m proud of you.”
    I need to trust, like PopPop and his granddaughter (I just need to get on board).

  3. I needed to hear this today. Wow, yes! May you hear the Lord say "I’m going to tell you I love you every way I know how" and do the same for the people you encounter while wandering and wondering. God's dreams are yet unfolding, bursting forth as a train surging down the tracks.

  4. Marty and I are both crying. You are using your spiritual gifts in everything you are doing my dear, in this blog, and in your work in London. This is evident. I know you know there is simply no feeling like the one He gives you when you are His vessel in this way. My heart is filled with joy.

  5. This is beautiful, Katharine. Thank you for writing.