by Parker Vige
One week ago from today, surely half-past 10PM if not later, I sat alone on the icy bench of an abandoned train station situated in the rolling hills of Italy. My thick coat and worn blue jeans proved inept as they tried fighting off the chilly winds reaching for my warm, Louisiana skin underneath. Moving my thoughts from the bitter, cold night I tried focusing on what surrounded me, but it was no use. No matter how hard or long I stared into the distance, my eyes were met with the ghost fields cloaked in a midnight garment. The hints of isolation tugging at my thoughts led me to my next question, Why would someone bother to build a train station in the middle of nowhere? And most importantly, how did I end up here?
To answer the latter question, I had to remember back several hours. It was a Saturday and I knew it was sure to be a long one. Some last minute, complicated travel plans now had me moving through three countries in less than twelve hours to arrive at my planned destination.
Currently, I found myself sleeping on the floor of a friend’s apartment in Vienna, Austria. I woke up quietly (well, as quietly as one can when your phone alarm is your only means of a wake-up call), folded my blankets, packed my bags, and I was out of the door by 5AM. I had a metro to catch — and then a bus. Four hours and a mildly stiff neck later, I arrived back in Prague. I semi-jogged to my hostel and grabbed the oversized bag I had left in storage. Next step was getting to the Prague airport, which happens to only be a skip, hop, jump, bus, metro, and a train ride away. Two hours later, I was in the terminal. Eventually I boarded my plane and was on my way to Rome; all was well in the world of Parker.
I arrived in Rome at 7PM. My only goal for the evening was navigating to my friend Giovanni’s apartment on the other side of the city. I explained my journey to the woman at the information desk and she told me to buy this ticket, get on this train, and not to get off until I arrived. I did exactly as she said. I lugged my oversized baggage onto the train and sat patiently until we left the station. 15 minutes later. Then, 30 minutes. I hadn’t heard the announcement for “Marcellina Station”, but I suspected it to be a fair distances away, so I reserved my worry. 1 hour. 2 hours. Final stop.
‘But wait, are you sure this is Marcellina?’ I thought this to myself, of course, because no one spoke English, and even if they had there was no one remaining on the train but me. I timidly stepped off of the train onto the platform which sat one hour outside of the city. Where am I, and what am I doing?
I looked at the train schedule and there was only one more train which would stop by this station and it would not be for two hours. If things weren’t bad enough, there was a convenient little (*) right next to the train’s scheduled time, meaning it may or may not come. At this point, I took a seat on the icy bench and simply waited. There was no one around for miles, and I was bored, so, I started singing. And that is where I found myself: nearing midnight, in a pitch-black Italian train station, practically yelling the lyrics to “Washed by the Water” by NEEDTOBREATHE.
After some time, I came to the conclusion that I would have no choice but to sleep on this bench for the night and take a train in the morning. My heart was sinking some, but I was determined not to be shaken by the oddly unfortunate circumstance. Moments after I laid my head down, the train whistle pierced the night air. Yes, at last, the calvary had arrived!
I jumped on the train and traveled the familiar path back in the direction which I had come, but this time I stepped off at a station in the center of the city. It was no where near Giovanni’s apartment, and by this time it was midnight, so I was better off booking a hostel and settling in for the evening. But, wait. I didn’t have a cellphone or a map to find a hostel.
By some stroke of luck, the moment I walked out of the train station, I lifted my head to find an internet cafe directly across the street. I hopped online for a minute, booked a night’s stay, and found my way to the hostel. By 1AM my head was ready to rest on a pillow.
When I awoke the following morning, I was prepared, refreshed and determined to find Giovanni’s place. After ample research and map studying I was confident I drafted a decent plan. I explored the city during the afternoon and boarded another train in the late evening. After 30 minutes, I heard the announcer practically sing the words “Marcellina Station.” I stepped off the train on to the platform; the correct platform this time.
As I waited for Giovanni to meet me at the station, I wondered why God had put me through the previous day of stress and difficulty. It was not such a simple situation for me to decipher. As I stood contemplating, there was another guy who joined me to wait on the platform. He politely asked, “Are you waiting for someone?”
I said, “Yes, I’m waiting for my friend Giovanni.”
“No way, I’m waiting for the same guy,” he said, as we both adopted a look of incertitude.
It turns out, that is not all we had in common. He was also from America, something I assumed from his accent. What I did not assume was that this guy, Conan, was raised in Louisiana. Better still, in Baton Rouge. We spent the next few moments talking about familiar churches, mutual friends, and our small town lives. Soon we moved to talking about our travels. He went on to tell me about his recent experiences. While visiting Pisa someone stole $340 from his debit card. Luckily, his bank agreed to reimburse the amount, but they also canceled his card. He had enough cash on him for his train ticket and only 77 cents more. He had been skipping meals waiting for his Western Union transfer to come through. The story was an interesting one to hear, if not somehow disheartening.
How silly of me to assume that every twist and turn, every wrong train and bus ride, in God’s plan were for my personal benefit. Why was I so quick to justify the previous day’s chaos in saying that it was a type of “trial” for building me up? Could it not just have easily been God guiding me to this platform, at this moment, to be a facilitator of His will? On this day, I was to be the giver, not the receiver. I gave my new friend enough money to survive the next few days, not in my own strength, but in God working through my weaknesses.
I cannot help but smile in hindsight as I realize how God was taking care of his two children, and I being none the wiser. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26