LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK – Part Two

BLOG #34, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK
Part Two
August 26, 2015

Scan_Pic0178

As our long-time blog-readers know, I first wrote about trains a little over a year ago. A number of you responded to that series. Now we were back on the same route, but in late summer rather than spring. Each season, on Amtrak, is different. Indeed, no two journeys in life are ever the same for life never repeats itself.

The reason for this particular trip was a family reunion in the Sierra Nevada Mountains not far from Lassen Volcanic National Park. More on that at a later date.

I’ve become convinced, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that God takes special delight in vicariously traveling on trains. Again and again I’ve seen our universe’s Master Choreographer set up anything-but-chance meetings between His children on trains. For there is something about train travel that lends itself to introspection, to thinking deep thoughts about life, of posing Life’s Three Eternal Questions: Who Am I? Where Have I Come From? And Where Am I Going?

When I travel, I habitually load myself down with comp books to give away to those who appear to be seriously interested in them. This time, since I was traveling by train, I took twelve of my most recent: Sooty, the Green-Eyed Kitten, My Favorite Angel Stories, and My Favorite Miracle Stories; all found homes by the time we detrained in Denver nine days later. In trains, people read.

Just to give you a feel for the people who shared the train with us, I’ll tell you about some of them:

On our westward-bound train two roomettes behind was a vivacious young woman and her in-love-with-life nine-year-old daughter. Since their door was often open and they were often reading aloud to each other, I stopped to get acquainted. Since the little girl loved books about animals, I inscribed Sooty, the Green-Eyed Kitten to her. Within only a couple of hours she was already part way through. The mother was using the train as a vehicle to teach her the geography of our nation. Clearly, the mother strongly controlled electronic gadgetry, for I never saw the girl with one. Instead, she was entranced with all she saw out her window and the people who walked down the hall.

One couple was only going over the Rockies and down to Glenwood Springs (one of the most spectacular train trips on the continent). They planned to stay in a hotel in Glenwood Springs, swim in the vast hot springs pool, wander around town, then board an eastern-bound train back to Denver. This section of the Rockies is extremely popular with Coloradans.

Sitting next to us at breakfast was an athlete from Fresno, California, who plays basketball for Wichita State. He was returning from attending a wedding in Breckenridge, Colorado. He told us he much preferred train travel to air travel. Also at our table was a lady from Nevada City, Nevada who travels a lot, as often as possible by train.

A couple from Wisconsin sat with us at noon. In the Observation Car I sat next to a lovely young graduate in music from BYU. I’ve long been amazed at how many young people travel on trains, seeking answers for life problems. Turns out she was one of them. Deeply troubled by a romance with a young man who did not share her own close relationship with God, she had hoped to find someone on the train she could trust to listen to her story and perhaps offer guidance or suggestions. Above all: kindness, a quality she’d discovered to be all too scarce in this hectic society we live in. She read my own life-changing-story in the new Miracle book—and that convinced her that I could be trusted. Just before she got off in Reno, I inscribed a copy of the Miracle book to her; and she, in turn, inscribed a copy of her new CD release. I shall always treasure the words she wrote on it.

But by that time people to my left and across the aisle asked to see my books, and confessed to having overheard our dialogue. One of them, a grandmother of an eighteen-year-old co-ed was treating both her daughter and granddaughter with this train trip, coast to coast then south to San Diego and back to the East Coast. All in honor of her granddaughter’s graduation and birthday. I inscribed a book to the lucky girl. Two older women traveling together (across the aisle) stopped me and thanked me for taking the time to counsel the BYU graduate. It never ceases to fascinate me to see how open travelers are to share serious, even intimate, things with strangers they’d not even share with family members or close friends; reasoning, no doubt, that they’d never see their traveling listeners again anyhow.

After our five-day family reunion in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we boarded an Amtrak eastward-bound train). On board were two train historians who, on the intercom, pointed out places of historical significance as the train approached them.

Also on the train was Tony, a retiree from New England (and whose single great obsession in life was trains). Even his CHASE credit card was Amtrak-designated. All points translated into Amtrak trips. Also, he regularly attended all key get-togethers for obsessive train devotees like him. In fact, it appears that Amtrak employees across the country recognize him on sight, even calling him by name in the dining car. He regaled us with many fascinating stories about Amtrak culture. He even got to meet the Amtrak president – twice.

We ate lunch with a British family, owners of an ice cream establishment in the UK. Both of their sons are techies, who are so interested in attending the University of California at Berkeley that they both attended a special class for serious applicants there: the younger one was on the train; the older one was still in Berkeley.

At dinner, we got acquainted with an ER doctor and his wife from London. They enthusiastically praised all that they were seeing in America.

Then there was the young techie from Munich, Germany, who had landed a contract job in San Francisco. He’d seen most of our national parks already, and climbed a number of our highest peaks. Indeed, he was planning to climb Long’s Peak ( one of Colorado’s fabled 14-ers) next day. He even liked the relative slowness (up to 80 mph) of U.S. trains, pointing out that many of Europe’s bullet trains move so fast the scenery is just a blur.

Unforgettable too were the young family doctors who were on their way to Colorado’s San Luis Valley where they were setting up a family practice. Their baby boy was the darling of the entire train—everyone, even the Amtrak employees, gravitated into his orbit.

All in all, on Amtrak, you will rub shoulders with people from all around the world. And if you have not yet traveled by train, put it on your Bucket List this very moment. Train trips will enrich your life in ways past quantifying.

What Was the World Like 100 Years Ago?

BLOG #36, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHAT WAS THE WORLD LIKE
100 YEARS AGO?

September 3, 2014

In a nutshell, it was a different world from the one we live in today. In many ways, changed very little from what it had been for more than a millennium. As 1914 approached, so many things seemed to be going right for the nobility, princes and princesses, kings and queens and emperors.

Ever since Darwin, there had been the perception that the world was rapidly becoming a better place. According to evolutionary theory, it was assumed we could expect global peace in the future. As Emile Coeu famously put it, “Every day, in every way, I’m becoming better and better.” It was then easy to believe in the goodness of God: God would no longer permit mankind to do terrible things to each other.

Back then, England ruled the world, thus, ruling over one quarter of the globe, it was said, “The sun never sets over the British Empire.” At the height of Queen Victoria’s reign, her sway extended over half of North America, slices of Central and South America, a vast part of Africa, a whole continent in Australia, some of the richest lands in Asia (including India), plus other island possessions spread clear across the globe. It was the British sea-power that enabled it to rule over the ocean, and Britain’s merchant fleet that made Britain the greatest of all trading nations.

On the European continent, the Hohenzollern Kaisers had gradually forged such a powerful military power that the German army was perceived as being almost invincible. And now, vain, impulsive Kaiser Wilhelm II worshiped the art of war. A huge naval shipbuilding program had begun in order to challenge Britain’s supremacy over the seas.

France had mostly recovered from its 1870 defeat at the hands of Germany. France now had a world-wide empire, second in size only to the British.

East was the vast land called Russia, composed of one-eighth of the land mass of the world. A proud and imperialistic nation ruled by the Romanoff czars, now Nicholas II. Nicholas, a narrow-minded aristocrat who wholeheartedly believed in the divine right of kings and was totally oblivious to the plight of his people, was incapable of handling the forces sweeping across the steppes of the empire. Politically inept, he was dependent on his strong-willed czarina, Alexandra, who was herself manipulated by the Svengalian mystic, Rasputin.

Dominating Central Europe was the far-flung Austro-Hungarian Empire, ruled by its beloved emperor, Franz Joseph, last of the great Hapsburg monarchs. The empire shouldn’t even have existed, yet somehow did, composed as it was of 12,000,000 Germans, 10,000,000 Magyars [Hungarians], 6,000,000 Czechs, 5,000,000 Poles, 4,000,000 Ukrainians, 3,700,000 Serbs and Croats, 3,300,000 Rumanians, 2,500,000 Slovaks, 1,300,000 Slovenes, and 800,000 Italians. But all those diverse peoples remained a unit mainly because of the respect they had for the emperor. In reality, it was just one big powder keg waiting to explode. And Franz Joseph was old.

Then there was the increasingly formidable Japanese Empire. To the north, Japan annexed the Kuriles; to the south and east, the Ryukyus, the Bonins, the Volcanoes, and Marcus Island. After its victorious war against China in 1894-95, the Japanese annexed Taiwan and the Pescadores; and Korea became a vassal. In 1904, Japan had an epic showdown with Russia, and won. Nicholas II never recovered from that ignominious disaster. So now, Japan was spoiling for a fight in order to acquire even more territory.

Thus the western world was ruled from five great cities: London, Berlin, Moscow, Vienna, and Paris. Most all the European royal houses had intermarried to the extent that they were all cousins.

It is fascinating to read eighteenth and nineteenth century fiction. The protagonists, the heroes and heroines of that age were invariably royal, among the nobility, or aristocratic. In America, it seemed every girl yearned to marry a prince, duke, earl, count, or lord. And many did just that. Reason being that the European aristocracy and nobility, due to their frivolous and lavish lifestyles, were almost always in debt: desperately needing money. Since there were plenty of rich Americans who had lots of money, and would gladly pawn off their daughters to the highest bidder, Americans bought their way into European high society. That most of those marriages had nothing to do with love, yoking title to money, more often than not, they proved disastrous.

It would not be until the end of World War I, and the resulting doom of royal supremacy, that fictional heroes and heroines shifted away in the direction of media, entertainers, and sports protagonists, such as we see today.

The tragedy of 1914 was that, in reality, no one deep down really wanted war. Times were good. Sidewalk cafes were full. Monarchies were becoming ever more democratic, the middle class was increasingly prosperous, education was becoming more and more accessible to all, European tours were something more and more people wanted to take. In most cases the populace would rather have the ruler they had (the devil they knew) than the ruler they didn’t know (the devil they didn’t know).

Then came June 28, 1914, when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, in Sarajevo, Serbia, on a state visit, was assassinated.

And the world exploded into war . . . and has never been the same since.

References: The Five Worlds of Our Lives (New York: Newsweek, Inc., 1961).

A FAIRY TALE ROYAL WEDDING

Indeed, that’s what the April 29, 2011 wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton was—a fairy tale. Wisely, the greatest folk tale anthologists end their fairy tales with marriage; not with the inescapable troubles, tribulation, and traumas that, as predictably as day following night, assail all brides and grooms. The “And they lived happily ever after” is tacked on for the benefit of children, for they are satisfied with nothing less.

Given that millions of marriages around the world take place every year, it’s strange, is it not, that the most memorable ones take place in the West? I’ve often wondered why that is—that is, I did until I realized that great romance is possible only if the man and woman are equals. Only within the framework of Christianity is this possible, each wedding consisting of a bride and a groom who mirror Christ’s love for His created beings He loved enough to die for. So look around the world and search for another template to equal this one. What do you discover? Whenever polygamy is permitted—such as is true in the Muslim world—, there can be no equality at the altar. Nor in the matriarchal societies or in any society in which either sex is considered of less value than the other (as in China and India where boys are prized and girls are consistently devalued). And well over a third of this earth’s total population resides in those two societies.

Inescapably, the wedding of William and Catherine is being compared with the wedding of Charles and Diana. Only in retrospect and by comparison do we realize that the earlier wedding (also touted as a fairy tale wedding) was anything but a fairy tale wedding. For a number of reasons: (1) the bride and groom hardly knew each other (having spent only some 21 hours in each other’s company prior to the wedding); (2) the former was an arranged dynastic marriage of unequals; (3) neither of them was in love with the other; (4) the bride was forced by the palace to undergo the indignity of a physical examination in order to certify her as a virgin – the groom was exempt from questioning on the issue; (5) the “kiss” was forced and a sham on his part; (6) when asked if he was in love with his bride, Charles famously quipped, “Whatever that is.” It would later be observed that “Charles was the only man in the world not in love with Diana.”

Not so with William and Catherine: (1) They knew each other very well—indeed intimately—after an eight-year courtship; (2) in this case, the prince married a commoner; (3) both were unmistakably in love with each other, tender and empathetic and kind and supportive of each other; (4) the virginity issue was not ever raised; (5) not merely one kiss–but two; in each case, it was almost like spontaneous combustion, ignited by but a single look into each other’s eyes; (6) both clearly know what love is.

The wedding itself and the pageantry varied little from the standard British royal template, except that it was obvious that William and Catherine put their own individualistic stamp on theirs, unlike the former, planned and orchestrated as it was by the Palace.

But Charles was not all to blame for his condition. Many years before, when but a child, he’d been left with his nanny and servants for half a year while his parents went on a tour around the empire on the royal yacht Britannia. When they finally returned, little Charles rushed into his mother’s arms—not! She stopped him cold in his tracks—with an outstretched hand! A handshake all she had to give her lonely son.

But William and Harry were raised by a loving mother—and it showed . . . in so many ways. Eventually, after Diana’s untimely death, Charles did the best he was capable of in his role of single-parent. And clearly, Catherine comes from a loving united family, uncrippled by separation or divorce.

William and Catherine are beginning their married life in a simple five-room house (on a wind-swept Welsh island) devoid of butlers and servants; she will cook their meals. On the other hand, it is said that Charles has never in his entire life even squeezed toothpaste onto his own toothbrush!

* * * * *

Over two billion people watched—and half a billion more streamed—the April 29 wedding. Within mere hours, Catherine catapulted into superstardom: the most iconic face in the world.

And Americans, as always, continued to express their devotion to, and fascination with, the British monarchy by getting up in the middle of the night to watch the wedding. Perhaps because, deep down, the British royal family is still ours too; after all, we were ruled by them for 174 years (as compared to the 222 years of our republic). So why do the British and Commonwealth peoples revere the monarch so? For today, all royal power is vested in the elected Prime Minister.

One British news commentator expressed it this way last week: “True, we respect the Prime Minister, but we are subjects of Her Majesty, the Queen. In fact, no civic function begins without all singing, “God Save the Queen!”

The April 29 royal wedding, with its million people loosely attending in London alone, confirms this incredible bond between a people and their royal family—a relationship based on love rather than mandatory obedience to.

So in conclusion, the marriage of William and Catherine is not a fairy tale just because of the incredible choreography of every perfectly orchestrated second of the proceedings, but because both the bride and groom appear to love each other so deeply that perhaps for them there may be a future about as close to “happily ever after” as our troubled world ever permits.

* * * * *

Next week, it will be back to the Caribbean.