Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Riding The Train

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Joan Didion.

I vacillate between these two quotes on a good day. On a bad day I am apt to curl into a fetal position and give up the ghost.

I spend a lot of time examining my life, and what I have discovered in my thorough study is a lot of regret, even as I face new situations that offer yet more regret. As much as I try, I cannot see the future. I am no oracle, no visionary. My gut instinct is way off. Meanwhile, the things happening now get short shrift while I am mired in regret, and therefore, I make new mistakes to regret tomorrow.

And right now, more than any other time in my life, I need to be able to see where my life is going because I am making decisions that will affect my life for the remainder of it, and I have no trouble admitting that I am scared.

So, if I turn to what I feel is the right course of action, I definitely have a gut feeling, but is it just a story I wish to be true?

I know what I want to be true, but if things were that simple, we would all be a lot happier. I have learned through heartache that no matter how much we want something to be right, whether it is or not is a matter of time and circumstance to be revealed slowly.

I need to know now if my path is the correct one. I have prayed and meditated, considered all options, tried to talk to others, but the fog in my life remains. I cannot see past it. Worse, talking to others has actually clouded the field even more. Everyone has a different opinion, a different story to tell.

When in this kind of situation, I find emotional triggers embedded in literally every situation in life. Someone helps an elderly woman to her car with her packages. Another person goes out of her way to bring joy and comfort to people she barely knows during the holidays. Someone else encourages a person, or offers a quick, “You can do this. Keep trying.” I witness these acts and listen for the voice, the hand, to reach out and touch me, nudge me ever so gently in the right direction.

I believe in the inter-connectedness of all things. Nothing is chance. There is a purpose, there is a why. What frustrates me is that I do not know the why. By the time I figure it out, I have moved into the land of hindsight. So I sleep restlessly through the night, find myself dreaming during the day, pondering, wondering. Where is this going? Where is this train taking me?

I tell myself the story that things will be revealed in time. It is a good story, and the only one I’ve got right now.

I hear the steel wheels clacking over the rails. I see the hills and valleys flying past the windows of the train. I know that I am moving somewhere, accelerating toward something, but I must live with the uncertainty. I exist with the missing why.

I must consider every step of my path while telling myself that I am going somewhere. I must embrace the unknowable, revel in the mystery. In the end, to paraphrase John Henry Newman, we must keep going, even though the night is dark and we feel so far from home.


  1. we make 'mistakes' everyday that is our nature. we hurt and we are hurt.
    the word regret stands out here for me strong. if we regret then we can't move from there, we live there, carry that and i holds us stationary. if we learn from what we do (right and wrong what ever that may be for us as individuals) and continue to grow then that is it isn't it?
    the journey not the destination.

    i do not want to cloud your path as others have done but i feel since you have put this here you have wanted more of a dialogue.

  2. as you say, nothing happens by accident, everything is quite with purpose, and i find myself here today. actually robert (all ways 11) and i have just been discussing your post, as we have been hashing out these very philosophies for ourselves for some time. serendipitously, i just wrote a piece, the taiwan train, but have not posted it, that addresses many of the same issues, but from an opposite direction. and so today, i wonder why it is that we should meet like this:)

    i want to lay a gentle hand on you, paul martin, and calm you just a bit. i don't know a thing. ha! i laugh, but you are in such an agitated state, and somehow i want you to understand and accept, acceptance being the holiest of all words perhaps, that you do not need to know, you do not need to live a perfect life, you will learn nothing from regret but rather you will learn and then live better, no choice that you make will be the wrong one, just one to learn from, and that your train is headed nowhere really. what is important is now, and that you are on it.

    as i said, i don't know a damned thing, but what i feel is strong and new. perhaps it will have some meaning for you?

    my best to you

  3. First of all, thank you Robert for taking the time to write such a beautiful comment.

    You are right that I wanted the dialogue to continue, even though this sometimes clouds the path. There is a shared comfort in discussing things with good friends. Even though we have never met, our blogs make for a dialogue between us, image to words and back again, and I value your poetic advice. As I have discussed with William, it is amazing to me how people so far apart can also be so close, often seeming to be of the same mindset. Your thoughts on regret remind me of something I read once: regret for the past is a waste of spirit. The hard part is always listening to what you know is the truth and then living it.

    So we go on... Thank you.

  4. Erin, thank you for writing. I came to your various blogs through William's site, and have spent a few evenings reading back through your posts. I enjoy the restlessness of your mind, the philosophical ideas that you meld together with the everyday ups and downs of being a parent, a citizen of the world, a life partner.

    I am anxious to read your Taiwan train post when your are ready to share it with us. Again, like Robert, it seems many of us are thinking alike these days.

    As for the perfect life, thank you for reminding me it does not exist. When things really are topsy-turvy, I wish for just one thing, one aspect to be stable. If I can work from that one place, I can maybe handle the rest of the flux. No such luck. Life is always unfolding, showing us what being alive means: the adventure of it, the experience, the voyage into the unknown.

    Thank you for reminding me with your "strong and new" ideas what life is about. I love the metaphor of being on the train as the most important idea. Take care and keep writing and probing what your life means. It is wisdom you find for all of us.

  5. The blogosphere provides plenty of evidence for the interconnectedness of things. William Michaelian pointed me here, Paul, though I've been to visit your posts on many other occasions, though I do not often comment.

    This post is particularly resonant. There's a poignancy here that's breathtaking and all I can say along with you, Paul, and Joan Didion, keep going.

    We tell our stories to live.

  6. I responded with a comment on your beautiful piece. Thank you for being a friend and fellow traveler.

    Everyone, please check out Erin's blog at

  7. Thank you for the comment, Elisabeth. I appreciate your reading of my work and reaching out to offer support. This digital community continually surprises me. Distance between friends no longer exists. Take care.


I would love to know who is commenting. Therefore, please use the selections below to identify yourself. Anonymous is so impersonal. If you do not have a blog or Google account, use the Name/URL selection. Thanks.