One of the great things about growing up Catholic is that there’s a saint for every purpose. You apply to St. Anthony to find lost objects, ask St. Joseph for groceries when money is running low, and call on St. Agnes, St. Ursula, and St. Lucy to help you protect your virginity, should you desire to do so. There’s a specific heavenly advocate for every form of transportation, from driving a hearse to flying an airplane. So you can imagine how stunned I was this morning when I discovered that there is no patron saint of railway travel.
Seriously? Then who the hell am I supposed to invoke to make sure this summer’s train trip gets back on track?
Without appropriate heavenly representation, I turned to the next best thing – the Internet – and found the wisdom I had been seeking. A fellow named Francis, whom I’ve never actually met in that other realm we sometimes refer to as “real life,” shared this sage advice from his father in a comment on my Facebook page:
“Never chase a missed train … get a pastry and wait for the next one.”
This is such perfect advice I can only assume Francis’s father is a zen master or one of the more advanced mystics. We all know it’s utterly useless to chase missed trains, boats that have sailed, and planes that have taken off without us or been cancelled altogether. Yet that seldom prevents us from running down the station platform, shouting curses at the retreating tail lights, only stopping when we realize that we’ve lost not only our transportation and our mental equilibrium, but the last shred of our dignity as well. Sinking our teeth into a warm, flaky pastry – or pursuing some other simple, pleasurable activity that enables us to be present to the moment – has a way of putting life back into proper perspective.
Rich, trekking in Bhutan
Is your life going to be better or worse because you missed that connection? You never know. Many years ago, when Rich and I were heading to the tiny Himalayan Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, we discovered that our friends Blyth and Russ happened to be on the same flight. Their departing flight, scheduled for just one day after ours, was delayed by bad weather, and a Bhutanese acquaintance, knowing that Blyth and Russ have a small publishing company, offered to introduce them to the publisher of Bhutan’s main newspaper. They learned that he had received the king’s blessing to establish the first Internet connection between this isolated kingdom and the outside world, and our friends volunteered to return later in the year to provide him with a computer and the training to run it. Since then, Blyth and Russ have made more than a dozen trips to Bhutan, often bringing along groups of travelers, and their circle of friends widened until it included an introduction to the king himself.
I’m not suggesting that every missed flight results in a royal connection; I’m just saying you never know. The Buddhists have an oft-told story about this. A farmer buys a splendid horse, and when all the neighbors praise his good fortune, he says, “You never know.” The horse breaks out of his corral and disappears, and the neighbors commiserate with the farmer about his loss. He says, “You never know.” The horse returns, accompanied by several mares. Rejoicing from the neighbors. The farmer says, “You never know.” The farmer’s son attempts to train the horse and breaks his leg. Condolences from the neighbors. “You never know,” says the farmer. The army sweeps through the area, conscripting all able-bodied men; the farmer’s son is left behind because of his broken leg. There’s more, but you get the idea.
Unless you’re a highly evolved spiritual being like that farmer, you can’t count on keeping your cool every time your plans get turned upside down. A prayer to St. Expiditus, patron saint of urgent needs, may help. As for me, I’ll place my faith in the healing power of pastry. Amen.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
As we journey through the pandemic together, my blog provides a regular supply of survival tips, comfort food recipes, and the wry humor we all need to lighten our hearts on dark days.
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