Social Commentary

Imagine Two Trains

"Our two trains left the same station, and passed through much of the same country, but traveled in opposite directions."

Photo credit: Leland Wong. See “About the Photo,” below.

Imagine two passenger trains, sitting in the same railway station in a small Minnesota town. Each is taking on passengers bound for a year-long tour of the country, but set to travel in opposite directions. The red train is westbound, and will travel in a counter-clockwise direction around the country until it returns home from the east. The blue train is eastbound, and will travel in a clockwise direction around the country, also returning back home, but from the west.

The passengers from our small town will see many of the same things, but see them in a different order, at different times of day, in different seasons, and in different light.

My sister and I spent much of our youth together traveling around the world as children in a military family. Though she was seven years older than I, we shared many of the same experiences: living in Germany and Korea, traveling around Europe and Asia, and living all over the USA. We both made stops on our personal “train rides,” seeing the world, getting great — but different — educations, having careers, and now enjoying retirement.

We weren’t the closest of siblings but, like most “army brats,” we loved our shared world-traveling lives, our family, and the country from which we came.

She lives in Arizona. I live in Minnesota. She is a political conservative. I am somewhere to the left of liberal.

Our two trains left the same station, and passed through much of the same country, but traveled in opposite directions.

We both still love our country, perhaps now more than ever.

She struggles with seeing athletes who “disrespect the flag” by kneeling during the national anthem. I see those who kneel as believing in and longing for an America that will, one day, fulfill its promise of “Liberty and Justice for All,” but not without struggle.

If I could be fully understood, I might also kneel — to pray for our nation and our people.

She sees families gathered in Christian prayer around a dinner table, as our family did when we were still kids, as the epitome of American life and liberty. I see people of every faith and creed, or none at all, from whole or broken families, rallying around the idea that ours is a nation that can yet embrace its own diversity, and find shared strength and purpose in such a transformational ideal.

With my sister on the red train and me on the blue, we have found many things to disagree about, at least politically. But, were politics ever the thing that bound us together?

Our mother also lives in Arizona, near my sister. She suffers from dementia, and lives in a memory care facility. When I travel to Arizona to see them, my sister and I sometimes struggle to get past our differences. But, we share a common devotion to mom, and we both dearly miss that bright, fun-loving, always-curious woman that introduced her wide-eyed children to the world. She believed in us. From her, we came to believe in each other.

The thing about mom is, her train is traveling through some dark country now. At this point in her journey she often says things that are just wrong; things seemingly disconnected from reality. But that’s OK. We love her anyway, and just keep asking her more questions about what she has seen.

In the end, the red and blue trains will both arrive back home at the station. Will my sister and I then disagree about which train was the better way to travel?

We may have followed different paths, but will probably find that we are still bound together. We will remember how we have taken joy in each other’s triumphs, and sorrow in each other’s defeats. The different trains we took may have governed much of the way we saw things, but along the way we both grew. I know we will each want to hear about what the other saw from their own train, and all about the light we saw it in.

About the photo: I chose to illustrate this short essay with Leland Wong’s “Photographic Justice at the 145th Golden Spike event in Utah” (Copyright 2014). It seemed a near-perfect illustration of embracing diversity as a core American value and strength. Visit Wong’s excellent “A Mental Picture of Leland Wong” blog at

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