It’s the end of the term. Fatigue and stress pile up. Grades loom imminent. The beginning of a term is a fresh beginning; the end can feel more like a verdict. I was lying in bed after midnight, and drowsy, thinking, but about to drop off. A train whistle sounded, with the reverberation of so many hundreds of wheels striking the same track, not exactly a tuning fork, but a muted pathway of sound coming or going a mile away.
A low, soft moon over the trees gave a glow to the window shades. The lamp’s silhouette stood erect in the glow as the train peaked and then passed on toward its destination. All the students this term seemed to be on that train. I could think of them going, some to return for my next course, others now done and moving on, with maybe a few to be seen around the station now and then.
It takes a few days, maybe a week or more, to realize that the train arrived, moved through its unloading and loading, and then headed out again. It’s really gone. The whistle now is a memory, the same with the wheels pounding away.
Trains are creatures of weight and commerce. They’re old-fashioned but never get phased out. They are the mostly invisible and silent connectors of what we don’t think about except when we’re stopped at the tracks in traffic, or when there’s so little sound in the house that they are noticed.
When a student rides enough trains, almost unconsciously, a sense of cargo and movement becomes a routine with what formerly was a strange, even threatening, world of books and knowledge. And it’s not just those, but the engineers, the conductors, the servers, and oh so many passengers.
And we all see each other in the day, and the calendar pages get peeled off and tossed away. The hum continues, the cargo is loaded and unloaded, and a way of life takes place. At the end of any given journey, it’s the night whistle when it’s over that reminds me that they come, they go; we come, we go.