There has always been a part of me that has been fascinated with trains. I think some of that is embedded in childhood. We have two boys and, unlike adults, they are always excited when we have to stop for a passing train. I think the fascination lingered a bit for me because of something that I was denied in fifth grade.
I joke about the fact that I qualified and competed in the South Carolina State Geography Bee, but like a nerd, it is something of which I am proud. One of the benefits of qualifying was the qualifier and a parent received a free Amtrak ride to the city where the competition would take place. This was awesome. I had never been on a real, outside of an amusement park train before.
The distance between my hometown Spartanburg and our capital city of Columbia is a little over 90 miles. Naturally, the train route between the two cities required us to board a train three days before the Bee, go to Washington, D.C., and take another train back down to Columbia. My parents understandably weren’t too keen on me missing multiple days of school for such an inefficient detour and so I didn’t get my free train ride.
All of which is probably why I was kind of excited about the fact that we were traveling from city to city in Italy via train. That kind of travel can be a little unnerving. We were vulnerable; at the mercy of how the trains ran. One day our first of three trains ran late and it threw our whole timetable back. Another day, we found ourselves in a car with no air conditioning. Some trains did a much better job of informing passengers what the next stop would be. You also had no idea who you would be sitting next to when there was assigned seating.
Still, I enjoyed most of our train rides. Unlike driving, I felt like I was not so focused on the end point of the trip. We would get to our destination when we got there and there was nothing we could do to make it happen any quicker or slower. You get to know a place better this way. The landscape rolls past your window. You stop in various cities and towns. Locals and tourists get on and get off. It’s funny, the train stations—especially in the large cities—were typically hectic, frenetic places. But once you stepped onto a train, time slowed down.
EA and I would talk and look out the windows. She would cross-stitch. I would write. And on one of our longest trips, I pulled out my phone and listened to A Rush of Blood to the Head. When I was here over ten years ago, we passed around a portable CD player on the buses. When I remember that trip, it sounds like Jars of Clay’s Who We Are Instead, Outkast’s “Hey Ya” (because MTV was one of the few English channels on television and Andre 3000 told the ladies to shake it like a Polaroid picture seemingly four times every hour), and Coldplay’s sophomore album (which I believe was the second “secular” album that I ever bought).
I have always been interested in how we so closely connect specific music to times and places. A Rush of Blood was appropriate for that trip. It evokes a grayness. On the whole, the album is very melancholy but tinged with just enough hope. It’s an album of being lost, finding one’s place in the world, and searching for lost loves. Coldplay gave words and form to what I was feeling during that month and a half.
The linchpin of that album for me is “The Scientist.” Over time, the fourth track on A Rush of Blood became a sacred song to me. It’s a song about love fallen apart and the singer’s desire to “go back to the start.” I began hearing in those lyrics God’s desire to put back together the things that humanity had broken; to go back to the start that was intended for us.
On that foreign study trip, I began imagining a drama set to those lyrics and music. We ended up doing it as a part of our BCM dinner theater that spring and then I revived it a few years later for a worship service at Seesalt. The song has meant a great deal to me over the years.
I listened to A Rush of Blood to the Head on the train to Venice. When it hit “The Scientist” I stopped in my tracks. I listened to the song maybe three or four times in a row. It made me want to go back. Not necessarily back to college or what my faith looked like over a decade ago. I think sometimes we yearn for those type of things because they are more simple.
I yearned for a beating heart at the center of my faith. It doesn’t mean that it is dead now or it has no pulse. But I sometimes get so tired of being on defense because I don’t believe exactly what I did when I was high school. I miss seeing the imagination and the narrative. I miss the constant certainty that God does love me; that God did and would do whatever possible to take us back to the start.
It’s not that I don’t believe that anymore, but it’s buried deep somedays. I identify with the refrain in the song: “Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard.” I know faith won’t be easy, but some days it seems more difficult. That’s why I listened to that track so many times in a row as our train rumbled towards Venice. I found a line where it all came rushing back. It was good to remember.