By the Railroad Tracks

Funny how your life loops in on you, a piece falls into place that gives meaning to everything that went before it. I had a day like that today. Flashback, Berkeley anti-war demo, stopping trains bearing recruits for Vietnam. I’m walking, walking, long, long time beside the tracks. My boyfriend is neglecting me in favor of his buddies, so I look around for someone to talk to. Walking beside me is a woman shorter than me. She’s not talking to anybody either. We strike up a conversation that lasts at least an hour, walking along the train tracks. She says she’s a Buddhist. We talk about that. I say I work at the Lowie Museum. We talk about that. She’s in elementary education. I say, bring your kids to the museum.

I ask her what she is going to do when the train comes. We’re supposed to get on the tracks, that’s all I know. She says she’s going to sit down on the tracks. I ask her, then what? She says, “Maybe the train will stop.” I say, “What if the train doesn’t stop?” She says, “I’ll sit.” I have a few minutes to ponder that. Then, here comes the train, off in the distance. Along with many other people, I walk onto the tracks. I’m ready to jump away in a heartbeat. The woman walking beside me goes and sits cross-legged on the tracks. The train comes around the bend, speeds up, shoots out steam and the last thing I see before I jump off the tracks is the woman who was with me, still sitting. Its a long train. It takes a long time to go by, windows full of faces. The whole time it is going by, I think that its possible that my new friend is under it. I don’t know whether to scream or not. Train goes by, there’s nothing and no sign of her. She’s just vanished.

Soon after, I’m at the reception desk at the museum and she comes in with a bunch of kids, the field trip I suggested. I have the chance to ask her, “What the hell happened?” She says some plainclothes policemen (moles) on the other side of the tracks from us had snatched her off the tracks at the last minute and whisked her away in a police car. But now, she says, looking at me calmly, “I’m here with the children.” She turns away, leaving me somewhat stunned and staring into space. Its safe to say that my encounter with her figured into some later decisions.

Years later, I tell the story in “Berkeley in the Sixties.” Years after that, I am contacted on Facebook by a woman who saw that documentary who says that her Buddhist teacher lived in Berkeley and taught small children. Could my Buddhist be the same person? I said I don’t remember that she was a nun, but she could have been or been about to be. I ponder that the woman I met may have been or became a nun. Then, a while later, I  get one of my this year’s calendars, on the basis of the art work (I rarely read quotes, if any). On the way home, a woman in a store I go into spots it in my basket and eagerly asks me where I got it, she’s very into the woman whose picture is on the back. I tell her Co-op.

Today I go to hang it and remember the woman in the store, and so look on the back and get into reading a quote from one of her books and think, “Well, that sounds about right, sister” and look at her picture and recognize her immediately. Its her. Its the woman on the train tracks, Pema Chodron. Googled her, yep, Berkeley, right time, elementary education, its definitely her. Age is right, 6 years older than me. Since she had such an effect on me, its good to know what kind of company I was keeping in my formative years. Hippies have my permission to call the whole story the absolute height of cosmic. For others, zietgeist will work. Whatever, got my mind blown today.

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for that wonderful story. Back in the seventies I studied with the same teacher as Pema and attended seminars and retreats with her. I never heard about that train incident. Wow!

    1. Howard, as far as I know, I’m the only person who knows that story other than pema,if she remembers me. I assume she would remember the train track part. My boyfriend would not wait for me to look for her when she disappeared so I don’t know if anyone on the other side of the tracks saw the cops grab her but I’ve never met anyone who saw her but me. If she had not come to the museum, I would never have known what happened or who she turned out to be.

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