ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By
Joseph Walker

LITTLE TRAIN TANTRUM

My timing was perfect.

Almost.

The commuter train was still idling at the station as I approached it from behind. I could hear the bell sounding, indicating that the train would be pulling away soon. I picked up my pace and moved closer to the tracks so I could be clearly seen in the driver’s rear-view mirror. Surely he or she would wait the 10 seconds it was going to take me to reach the train door closest to me. Surely he or she would.

Or not.

I was within 20 feet of the train when it started to pull away from the station.

“No!” I shouted as I broke into a full gallop – or at least, as full of a gallop as these tired old legs can deliver. “Wait!”

I waved frantically, hoping the operator would see me and take pity on me. But it was no use. The train, as they say, had left the station – and left me standing there on the platform, panting and perspiring and fuming.

“Ten seconds!” I muttered angrily at the operator, who I figured was laughing at the chubby old guy he had stranded. “Ten blasted seconds!”

Only I didn’t say “blasted.”

Thankfully, no one was close enough to hear my private little train tantrum. The closest person to me was a young woman who was likewise running to catch the train, only she was about 20 yards behind me. I’m sure she saw me waving at the train as it was pulling away, but I don’t think she heard . . . you know . . . “blasted.”

“Oh, man, that’s frustrating,” I said, huffing and puffing with exertion and exasperation as the young woman approached.

“I know,” she said, smiling a frustrated little smile. “If I had been just a minute faster I could have been on that train.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “Or if the train operator had waited just a few seconds. . .”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Well, he’s got a schedule to keep,” she said without an ounce of animosity. “He can’t wait for every straggler. It’s his job to leave on time. It’s my job to be here on time.”

Suddenly I felt guilty – and inspired.

Instead of blaming someone else for her predicament she was assuming full responsibility for the elements of the situation over which she had control – something I happen to believe in, but don’t always do.

I started thinking about everything I could have done that morning that would have allowed me to get to the train station 10 or 15 seconds earlier. I’m embarrassed to admit that it was easy to come up with enough dinking around on my part that I not only would have made that train, but probably the train before that.

And the train before that.

It’s a natural thing to want to blame others for our problems. And sometimes it’s true: people DO make choices that impact us adversely. But before we get too wrapped up in our anger, we probably ought to take a good, hard look at ourselves. Most of the time we’ll find that there are contributing circumstances over which we have some control.

In other words, we’re probably part of the “blasted” problem.

And our timing isn’t as perfect as we thought it was.

# # #

— © Joseph Walker

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