Trains – The New Way to Travel (Part 4)

BLOG #25, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
TRAIN – THE NEW WAY TO TRAVEL (Part Four)
June 18, 2014

Now we come to the end of our study on Amtrak trains and I’ve saved the most unexpected aspect until last: the impact of trains on young people. Not only that, but how I related to them.

Let me begin with the lovely young coed from Mesa State, the one who was so taken with the far-ranging conversation around our breakfast table. Permit me to begin with her appearance. Since her eyes still retained that magical childlike sense of wonder about the world around her, I‘m all but certain she’d been home-schooled. We saw no tatoos, no jewelry hanging from lips, cheeks, or nose. Clearly, she was highly intelligent and most curious about our worlds. Later on, I chatted with her for a while in the Observation Car. Some time later, as I walked past her coach seat, she moved over and asked if I’d be willing to talk with her for a while. She was full of questions about life, what it was all about, how she was to avoid the moral and ethical land-mines laying in wait for her at every turn. I told her about my 2014 Christmas in My Heart story, “The Tides of Life,” the love story of an artist just a little older (at the beginning of the story) than she. But her questions ranged so much wider than art that I introduced her to the 2013 Christmas story, “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” in which I distill the most significant life-related wisdom God has entrusted to me during my lifetime. Also how I was able to incorporate that wisdom into what I called “The Nightingale Assignment,” a six-week period during which I challenged each student to come up with goals they could live with, and strive toward. Sometime during the discussion, she brought up the subject of birthdays, shyly admitting, “My birthday was ten days ago.” That was all I needed. Telling her I’d be right back, I moved forward to my seat, rummaged around in my briefcase for a book, took it back to her, and then showed that it was Christmas in My Heart 22, which contained that goal-setting story; then backdated it to her birth-date, and inscribed it to her. She then told me that a certain soldier had been moving in on her and she didn’t know how she could hold him off. She was so overcome by my taking so much time to talk to her, listen to her, and offer counsel, that she broke down in tears, convulsively hugging me. One of the last things she said to me was, “Oh, how much I wish I could have been one of your students!” I told her I’d always be there for her, no further away than a letter, email, or phone call. She got off the train at Grand Junction. But I’m hoping our time together and the stories in the book will make a real difference in her life.

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Our reason for making the trip was to attend a 55th alumni weekend at my undergraduate alma mater, Pacific Union College in the verdant Napa Valley. While there, as one of their honorees, I was asked to speak about the impact of my own principal mentor, Dr. Walter Utt, who I’d worked for three years. I told those assembled of the incredible impact that one man had on my life, how he’d remained in touch with me–until his untimely death [he was a hemophiliac] in his early fifties from an AIDS-contaminated blood transfusion out of San Francisco. I noted that after that never-to-be-forgotten remembering service (after I returned home), in gratitude to Dr. Utt’s impact on my life, I made a vow to God to make mentoring the #1 priority of the rest of my life.

Well, two days later, we boarded the eastbound Amtrak in Sacramento. We were soon climbing the newly snow-capped Sierras [a snow storm had just made a significant deposit of moisture in the higher Sierra Nevada Mountains]. In order to revel in the beauty more, I found my way forward to the Observation Car, and took a seat just inside the door. Turns out I’d joined a large group of college students and young singles. They were curious about me and I about them. For some unknown reason, I was impressed to ask a coed this question, “So what are you going to do with the rest of your life?” In seconds, her face was radiant–and the entire group was galvanized by the question and her answers. Afterwards, I asked another student the same question, and another, and another. By this time, older people in the car had figured out that they were missing out on something really interesting–so they moved into our group. The students were soon asking me questions. Learning I was a full-time author, and had been for many years a college professor of English, they pumped me for all I was worth. During the course of the next couple of hours I’d referenced the mantras for making a success of life in “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” Incredibly, that half of the Observation Car became my class, and they proclaimed me to be their teacher. I passed out all the business cards I had left. Turned out to be one of the most fascinating and far-reaching discussions on life I’ve ever had.. Finally, I told them I’d better see how my wife was and left them; I didn’t see them for some hours afterwards, and they then reproachfully asked me why I’d deserted them.

It was late afternoon, when at one of our Nevada stops, many of us disembarked in order to get some fresh air. Several of those students were turning the air blue with cigarette smoke–so thick were the fumes that I couldn’t stand getting too close to them. But even so, the coed I’d spoken to first in the Observation Car turned to me, and in an earnest voice said, “Dr. Wheeler, do you know why I’m on this train?” I’m on because I wanted to get some answers about what life is all about. ”

I assumed I’d later be able to find her and follow up on her open invitation for me to talk with her personally. But unfortunately, she got off at the next stop. I’ve been troubled ever since . . . and prayed that, if it be His will, that God would have her reconnect with me.

So what does all this mean? I submit that there was something about Amtrak travel that caused all those students to buy tickets on The California Zephyr for reasons perhaps unknown even to themselves. But clearly they were seeking answers. Even more, they were seeking people who really cared about them, their goals, their dreams.

I suspect that they aren’t finding those answers in the hedonistic society we’re part of today. For universities have all but abandoned God, country, and values worth living by. People who attempt to live by a spiritual code are ridiculed and discounted. Thus these young people who clung to me like a life raft had clearly found in me something they weren’t finding anywhere else.

I will never be the same person I was ten days before. Nor, I am guessing, will those young people who spontaneously annointed me as their “professor.” And who got off the train with at least a few of their life-related questions dealt with or answered.

SPECIAL NOTE: All illustrations in this series taken from Amtrak Timetable and Vacations.

Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions This Year

BLOG #1, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DON’T MAKE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS THIS YEAR
January 1, 2014

I don’t mean that we should skip that annual ritual (for the obvious reason that we rarely keep them anyway). No more than we can stick to a diet long-term. Just think backward through time: how long has it been since you actually followed through on a list of New Year’s resolutions?

Recently, in a Success magazine, it was postulated that perhaps we ought to focus on a different approach. Zero in on one perceived deficiency in our lives at a time. For instance, we’re all aware that Americans are killing themselves at an unprecedented rate thanks to our sedentary lifestyle. Studies have confirmed that the more we sit, the sooner we die. The longer you stare at a screen without getting up out of your chair or off the couch, the shorter your lifespan. We know this, but most of us fail to act on it.

So, how about, this year, scrapping the resolution list, and concentrating on a small thing? Just one small thing. One thing that you could so concentrate on, and stay with long enough to make it habitual. If you make it habitual, you will have conquered the problem. So you determine not to sit down anywhere for longer than thirty minutes at a stretch (ideally, it ought to be fifteen minutes at a stretch, but it is wise not to settle on anything you’re unlikely to follow through on).

Let’s say the phone rings. Rather than reach for it, you stand up, retrieve it, and walk around until the conversation is over. That would represent one huge way to deal with the issue.

How about determining to take control of electronic intrusions that are gobbling up your creativity, and not coincidentally weakening your job performance? Electronic email and text-messaging beeps have become the new tyrants in our lives. What if you relegated all but the essential ones to a back-up holding pattern, to be dealt with when the day’s main demands and opportunities had been met?

Such single determinations may seem small, but in reality they are anything but! Reason being; There is no small anything in life. Tackling deficiencies in our lives, just one at a time, has the potential to revolutionize our life’s journey, and dramatically increase our creation potential. If you are interested in a fuller expression on this subject, I suggest you pick up a copy of my new book, Christmas in My Heart #22 (Pacific Press, 2013), and study my novelette-length story, “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” In it, in a fictional format, I deal with the fullest exploration of motivational stories, mantras, poems, quotes, etc., that I have ever discovered. It is extremely unlikely that I will ever take the time to do this again, given that the gestation for the story stretches out over virtually my entire lifetime (one year which was concentrated on the evolution of the story itself: 20,000 words in length). Oh yes, all you romantics, the story is also a Christmas love story.

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So welcome to a new year, all you cherished members of my extended family. I’m honored that so many of you take the time to check out the latest blog each Wednesday of your lives. I do not take this weekly decision on your part lightly, and will continue to do my level best to be worthy of it.

A blessed 2014 to each of you!