I don’t live around many train tracks in Dallas. There is one I cross over when I drive to my parent’s house and quite a few DART lines scattered about the city. But there aren’t many train tracks. At least none close to my house. At least none I can hear.
In Auburn I lived in a house right in front of them. So close that the walls would shake a little when a train came by. Which happened often. And usually in the middle of the night.
That same house had a big front porch that I loved. There were hooks for a swing but no one ever built us one. Instead we threw around lawn chairs and an old plastic table and pretended it was furniture. Until I bought this rocking chair. It was old and dirty and I got it from a thrift store in Opelika. The white from the wicker stuck to my legs in the summer and my hair always got caught in the back of it and pulled in the worst of ways. But I loved that chair.
It heard all that went on in that house. Angry fights with boyfriends and sobs over school work and the clinking of glasses for engagements and graduations. Music from parties and laughter with roommates and horns honking from the driveway to pick up a friend. It heard tears and screams and prayers and slamming doors. And invariably, at least three times a day, the symphony of the train on the tracks right behind it – the blast of the horn, the whistle of the engine, and the rumble of the tracks as it hummed into the distance.
I loved that chair. It heard all that went on. But the train was its favorite. It was the only thing that stayed the same.
College was when I first really started to battle depression. It looked differently than I thought it might – less tears, more apathy. Less “can’t get out of bed,” more “don’t really care about people.” It wasn’t the black hole I would’ve imagined, but a grey, static noise in my mind that never let up and that drowned out the world. And in the midst of that noise I sat quietly in that chair. Resting my bare feet on the porch rail as I read books and tried to write and drank coffee and wine and iced tea with a straw. I tried to pray and wondered if it mattered. I tried to cry and felt foolish for doing so. I tried to think and could only hear the static. Loud and consuming, harsh and unapologetic.
Until I heard the train. Sitting there in that old, dirty chair. And the static cleared, just briefly, just enough.
I’ve tried to explain that reaction before and the words have fallen flat. But it was something about how close and yet how distant the train felt in those moments that brought my mind out of the twisty and into the reality of the vastness of our God. Like the sound and vibrations of a train racing by – the tiny moment of its presence in my world (or of mine in its), the thought of where it might have come from and where it might be headed – helped me zoom out just enough to breathe again.
Movement was happening. Trees had been cut into logs, which were being transferred to places where things would be built. Ore and coal, raw materials, grain, a lonely conductor and maybe an engineer, on a train on its way to somewhere else, so something could be built or planted or made. It had an entire journey, with a beginning and an end and a purpose. And I was just a brief, tiny audience of one, feeling its power rumble underneath my feet and letting its music drown the static, bringing me back to the quiet for a brief, still moment. Me and my chair. On the porch with my grey, cloudy mind.
I don’t have that chair anymore. I don’t have a porch and I don’t have a train nearby. But the static still comes back. Sometimes soft and slow, like the rising of a tide, and sometimes like a rush that leaves me upside down and breathless. And its heavy and its thick and its so very loud. It feels like apathy. It feels like caring less about people. It feels like I could really use a porch and a chair and train. To remember how tiny my life is. To remember the vastness of God – his coming and going, his purpose and movement, that makes vibrations under my feet and quiets the static in my head.
I don’t live around many train tracks in Dallas. But I long for the feeling just the same. To sit, to read and write and drink coffee, as a tiny audience of one, who prays and knows that it matters. Who cries and “sows in tears” (Psalm 126:5). Who thinks of how I am thought of by God. And who rejoices in the brief moments of stillness that his presence provides to his people.
The static is loud. It comes and goes and comes back again. But the symphony of grace is louder. And it’s the only thing that stays the same.