Posted by: Blue Lou Logan | June 18, 2013

Train Philosophy: A 25th Anniversary

Almost precisely twenty-five years ago, I graduated from Grossmont High School, La Mesa, California.  Long, long before I was Logan, spinning nautical metaphors, I was a skinny teen, just shy of eighteen, with a mind full of Ray Bradbury, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and Jack Kerouac.  I styled myself a writer, and somebody must have bought it:  I was Salutatorian of my class (0.1 GPA short of Valedictorian…cuz I was robbed), and I had been admitted to Cal Berkeley, which was kinda inevitable.  Then somebody turned me loose–me, the misfit in a  denim jacket and biker boots with a shelf full of Speech and Debate trophies–to write something for the graduation ceremony.

Ida, one of my misfit band at Grossmont, with whom I have recently reconnected on Facebook, pointed out the anniversary of the occasion.  My mom, who is also my archivist and #1 fan, was able to fax me the ancient text within an hour of asking.  Inevitably, it’s weird to look back, but a few things are especially striking reading my own address half a lifetime later.  On one hand, it is remarkably dark, like some Rod Serling intro to a Twilight Zone episode–the train hurtling into the metaphysical future.  On the other hand, my speech can be read as Buddhist philosophy:  Neither the past nor the future are within your control, focus instead on the Now.  Finally, and on this I have reflected before, my language may have shifted from trains to ships, but ultimately and inescapably I will always think and speak in metaphors of travel.
None of this was conscious thinking at the time, whatever my poetic delusions.  Yet there is a circular truth:  When I look back at the journey, I always, and still, want nothing more than to be on the journey.  So…close your eyes.  Imagine a high school football field, folding chairs on the turf, parents snapping pictures, teenagers perhaps excited for the future or just the party later…or bored to sleep.  Proudly but uncomfortably wearing my dark blue polyester cap and gown, I step to the podium…
No Destination, No Return
I’d like all of you to join me in a moment of imagination.  Close your eyes if you’d like.  Picture yourself on a passenger train.  Imagine that you’re in the dome of an observation car speeding across the desert.  Look back beyond the end of the train.  You see the broad expanses, the tall cactus, the wide open sky.  You see the steel rails disappear into the hazy horizon.
You know what’s back there?  That’s the past.
And what all is the past?  Think back.  There’s four long, hard years of high school.  There’s tests and troubles, normal days and disasters.  There’s some good times, too.  Ah, the good times.
The train speeds on.  The miles increase until you can barely see the faint memories.  Grade crossings pass and disappear, telephone poles whizz by.  This train only goes one way, you know.  This train’s bound for the future, and the engineer will never stop and turn back.  The future is inevitable, and you can’t clutch to what will only get further and further away.
Now look off ahead, past the locomotive.  The tracks are starting to curve behind a hill.
What could possibly be up there?  Perhaps you know, or perhaps you think you know.  College, maybe?  A job?  Marriage?  Death?  You can’t know for sure.  There could be another train coming straight at you; there could be a derailment.
Sounds pretty dangerous, doesn’t it?  True, true, but you’ve stayed on track this long.  You can’t forget the past miles, either.  They’re a part of you, good and bad.  Don’t forget where you’ve been; for every new town, there’s another one somewhere back down the line.
Look out the window again, but this time don’t look forwards or backwards.  Look sideways.  Look at the chocolate brown mountains in the distance.  Look at the sand and the gravel right next to the train.  Trouble comes from too much predicting and too much remembering.  You don’t control the perpetual railroad of time, so you’re not responsible for the unforeseeable.  Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Does that sound like you’re helpless?  You’re not that–not even close.  If things go wrong on the train, don’t just sit there.  You must work if there are problems; complacency itself can cause a crash.  It can even kill other innocent people.  Fight if there’s a need, but remember you can’t touch the solid scenery outside your window.
Now open your eyes.  Here we are again:  Grossmont High School, June, 1988.
Or is it?  You’re still on that train of fate.  And as you leave here today, don’t think too much about the past or the future.  Just think about today.
And ride the train.

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