I never — and I mean NEVER — get stuck behind a train while driving. I can count the number of times it has happened on one hand.
I drive across a set of railroad tracks every day dropping my kids off at school. I have never seen (or heard) a train crossing them. Not once.
To my great surprise, I was brought to a stop this morning as the wooden slats came down and the flashing lights began their ceremonious display of ‘haha! you’re going to be late now’ and I parked in a sudden sense of simultaneous confusion and wonder. (‘Wow, this railroad track isn’t just some outdated decoration of our old-fashioned small-town Main Street?’)
Anyhow, I sat in keen observation of the railcars, anxiously anticipating the caboose’s arrival. What really got my blood flowing was not the train’s eventual passing, but this breathtaking image I discovered on the side of a centrally-positioned railcar; on its surface was the most exquisite display of artistic and philosophic graffiti I have ever seen. Simply, it said …FEEL…
I was moved beyond measure. So much so, that I was brought to my senses by the sudden symphony of car horns screeching the serendipitous and unanimous impatience of all the drivers behind me, proudly pissed off by my daydream-moment of speechless awe.
As I continued throughout my day, I found myself moved even more deeply by “…FEEL…” than I had been from the start. What gang member, artist, delinquent, or bored, unsupervised minor, or unemployed, unmotivated, disenchanted grown-up could have possibly had the foresight — and the INSIGHT — to scribble such profound and simple truth for the sole purpose of simply REACHING somebody… Even if that somebody turns out to be only one somebody, and that somebody is me?
I’m not quite self-absorbed enough to imagine that my tiny little existence would matter that much to anybody else, to risk heavy punishment and to waste a minimum of forty-five minutes for some random woman in Randomville, USA seeing the depth of …FEEL…’s beauty and be instantaneously transformed… But that’s exactly what happened; on my end of things, and on mystery person’s end of things as well.
It reminds me of a certain weekend when I was twenty-three. I had an 18-hr courseload in college and a full-time job that kept me going-going-going non-stop, all the time. But on one weekend, I decided to take a break from it all. I pulled out my art supplies and spent all day Saturday creating massive, colorful posters and laminating them. Each one was different. They all made absolutely no sense, and served absolutely no purpose to the uninformed eye. Randomly, they were an assortment of various suggestions, quotations, and big bold words. “LOVE IS A VERB,” “be who you are,” “TRUTH IS MAGICAL,” “you are the coolest you that this world has ever known,” “HUG A STRANGER TODAY,” etc. Many of you will no longer ride the fence, confidently asserting to yourselves as you read this that I am, undoubtedly, a complete and total whack-job. And I’m cool with that. Because the best part of that Experiment in Ridiculousness was not the part where I made tons of cool posters and thought of borderline-nutcase things to write on them. The best part of it was the many photographs I took (from a quiet distance) all day Sunday of various passers-by, pausing in the course of their journey that day to observe the nonsense before them and turn their head with an involuntary grin across their face, absorbing the thoughts I had shared with them.
I imagine the train-sketcher and I hold much in common. Except for him/her, the process was more about the possible than it was about the actual. And I must say, it’s just as mind-blowing to be the stranger experiencing what’s possible as it is being the artist experiencing what’s actual.
Magic: possible, actual, and quantified.