I love the idea of travel by train. It seems so...romantic. It's also been one of the leading contenders on my list of travel that is impractical and inefficient, coming in second to travel by bus which does not seem romantic AT ALL.
For some reason, I started researching the nuances of train travel about a month and a half ago. I did a Google search and found myself deep within the livejournal of John Hedge. I was inspired, humbled, schooled, intrigued and not just a little crazy about the guy. He speaks plainly, telling stories about his past amid the tedious but necessary details about costs, sleeping and eating during travel by rail. He traversed the US on a series of trains...dreamt of doing the same in Ireland and then made his own dream come true. He talks of the heartbreaking loss of his beloved wife, the struggles he encountered pursuing his education, his time in service to this country and his faith in God. A 70+ year old disabled man traveling to see and be seen, he accepted discomfort and obviously found it worthwhile in order to have the experiences. He walked when he could, used buses and taxis or accepted rides when they were available and offered. He stayed in bus and train stations, hostels and with host families he prearranged. He bought his food and used self-catering kitchens, saved portions of his meals out for the next meal and managed his diabetes with barely an incident.
I felt like I knew this man. I certainly found a kinship with his itch to travel. I admired his tenacity and determination. I wonder what he'd tell me about my dreams and guess that he'd say "you can do it at my age but I wish I had done it at yours!" So I started to wonder why I'm not...what I think is in the way and what exactly I could do about it. Obstacles began to dissolve in my mind and plans started to piece themselves together. I started to think about the stories I'd like to tell at 70+ years old myself. Hell, the stories I'd like to tell next year, actually!
I re-read the journal entries that inspired me the most. I began to mentally compose a thank you note to this amazing gentleman. I felt a little shy. I would smile whenever I would think of contacting him and decided to put the shyness away and let him know how much his story meant to me. His livejournal had been open in a tab on my desktop for weeks at this point...and almost daily I would re-read a little snippet here or there. I hadn't looked at dates. This time I did. He started documenting his dream trips come true 2/17/2006 and the last line of his first entry preceding his cross-USA trip entitled "Introduction" said "...I have decided to go for it. I figure I will finish the trip on the train, whether in coach or in the baggage car." He composed his last entry 1/8/2007 after he concluded his trip around Ireland. I couldn't find a way to contact him anywhere at all despite searching through the entire site. I went back to the beginning and decided to perhaps try to leave a comment. There, on the very first post, was a comment posted 4/26/2007 that stated simply "JohnHedge has passed away this week. Obituary is in Oakland Press, view online. Thank you. God Bless."
And I grieved. Almost 5 years later to the day, I wept for a man I had never met. I wept for the heartbreak of losing his wife and for his joyous faith that they would be reunited when his time on Earth had come to an end. I wept for the dogged determination that kept him moving through pain and trials so that he could leave this world only after he did what needed to be done, saw what needed to be seen and experienced what he knew was waiting in his soul to be experienced. I wept for a family of four children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren who had lost a loving and amazing man but live today with the knowledge that they all lifted him up in belief that this last dream of his was worth pursuing and that he had their full support. I just wept because my heart hurt that he died. I wept because life is fragile and unpredictable and we never know which day may be our last. I allowed myself to imagine him sitting down on his last day, closing his bible, taking off his reading glasses, closing his eyes to dream of his love and meeting her in some lovely great beyond that he was sure existed. I stopped weeping and started celebrating his life and his great reward.
I never knew John Hedge the man...but his story changed my course.