A Weekly Column
Joseph Walker


It was mid-winter at the height of the Great Depression, and George and David were making their way across the country looking for work.  Any work.  Anything that would provide them with a few dollars to send home to their struggling, starving families.

They did a lot of walking.  A lot.  It wasn’t a very efficient way to get from one place to another, but they didn’t have a lot of options.  They walked and lived off the land (you’d be surprised the things you’re willing to eat when you’re hungry enough) and the kindness of strangers.  Occasionally they hitched a ride with a kindly trucker driver.  And once they met a sympathetic train conductor, who agreed to . . . you know . . . look the other way when they slipped into an open cattle car.

“It won’t be much for comfort,” the conductor told them, “but it will get you where you want to go faster than walking will.”

Saying that the cattle car wasn’t much for comfort was a little like saying the stock market crash of 1929 didn’t do much for the economy.  For one thing, it was a cattle car, which meant cattle . . . you know. . . residue.  And plenty of it.  You couldn’t step anywhere in the car without stepping on – or in – something disgusting.  Plus there was a ton of hay, which blew around the car like little wind-driven spears as the train picked up steam.  And then there was the fact that it was an open car, with icy wind blasting them from every side.  Smoke and burning cinders from the engine also blew directly into the car, making them cough and gag.  Some cinders even started a fire in the hay, which might have been disastrous for the train had George and David not been back there to stamp it out.

Uncomfortable?  Make that “hellish.”

But the conductor was also right about the speed of the train, which carried them several hundred miles across difficult terrain.  In a matter of hours they arrived in a large city where they were sure they could find jobs – a journey that would have required weeks to complete on foot.

When the train finally came to a stop the conductor hurried back to check on his charges.

“I can’t believe you made us stay back there!” George said as he mopped his cinder-pocked face with his handkerchief.  “There had to be a better place for us on the train.”

The conductor started to explain how it would have been impossible to have them ride anyplace else without paying, but George held up a hand to stop him.

“I don’t want to hear it,” he said.  “Thanks for nothing.”

As George stormed off, David looked at the anguish on the conductor’s face.  He tapped him on the shoulder, shook his hand and smiled.

“Never mind him,” David said.  “You’ve given us a great gift.  We have a lot more time now to earn money for our families.  Thanks for the ride.”

Life takes us on lots of different journeys during our time on this planet.  Some are slick and smooth and fast and comfortable.  Others are bumpy and rough, with blowing hay and burning cinders blasting us in the face and cow residue under foot.  Sometimes the journey is rough because of our own poor choices.  Sometimes our journey is adversely impacted by the poor choices of others.  And sometimes the journey is hard because . . . well . . . sometimes journeys are hard.  Earthquakes happen.  Hurricanes happen.  Cancer happens.  Life happens.

As I watch people travel life’s journeys, both easy and hard, it occurs to me that it isn’t so important what happens to us, since we’ll all get our share of both kinds of journeys.  What’s important, and what truly seems to make a difference in our lives, is how we respond to what happens to us.  Are we like George, shaking a fist at the heavens and complaining about how hard and painful life can be?  Or are we like David, brushing off the cinders, shaking out the hay and thanking God for the privilege of a ride?

It’s an attitude, but it’s more than just an attitude.  It’s an approach to living that embraces life – fully and completely.

Residue and all.

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— © Joseph Walker

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Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

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