My favorite train is the 74 Piedmont out of Greensboro.
It delivers my 20-year-old son from college on breezy, colorful October afternoons.
The hair that is now held back by a headband. The flip-flops. The plastic trash bag that carries his dirty laundry. The book of poetry in his left hand.
Two years ago, he was headed the other direction. The hair was more tightly cropped. The book? An introductory guide to Criminal Justice. Most of life’s answers were tucked neatly into his right front pocket.
I had my doubts about that major of his. And those answers of his, too. We chatted about it. Maybe a couple times even. A dozen? As parents, we know our children—sometimes better than they know themselves.
But they have to step onto that train themselves. Which also means we need to step out of the engineer’s seat. To settle into a passenger seat. To relax a little, enjoy the journey—no matter how bumpy the ride may be at times.
I watch as he approaches. I cannot help but think of when he held my leg on the first day of Kindergarten, those nights sitting beside his bed in the children’s hospital, the hundreds of miles driving from one baseball tournament to the next—the arguments, the conversations, the music. “Who’s this?” he’d ask. John Prine, I’d say. “Who’s he? I like it!”
He makes his way toward me. I swear, I can see that grin all the way from Greensboro. “Hey, doood!” I say. There is a piece of his 20 that feels familiar.
We step off the platform and toward the truck. “What’s with the garbage bag?” I ask.
“Somebody stole my laundry basket! Can you believe that?”
“Yeah, actually, I can.”
He climbs into the truck and sets the book on his lap.
“Nitch-key?” I ask.
He grins. “Nee-cha.” He shakes his head. They tend to know us, too. “Nee-cha, Dad.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s right—I guess Nitschke was an All-Pro nose guard with the Packers,” I reply. “Hey, old sportswriters die hard, man, what can I say? So you like it?”
He flips the book over in his hand. “Some of it is pretty deep stuff, but yeah. Dude says some crazy stuff sometimes.”
He opens the book, turns to a page he has flagged with a Post-It, and begins to read aloud.
I drive on, the sun and shade darting in perfect unison between the Carolina pines.
“Become who you are.”
You don’t say.