Riding the train in Hungary

I sometimes wonder if Hungarians realise how lucky they are to be riding the train. It may be one of the slowest services in Europe but on a bright day when the cabin windows are down and the green and yellow fields seem to roll along endlessly, I can’t imagine a better way to travel. Zsolt and I have started our week of train traveling. First to Erd, later through Budapest, and then onto Prague. We read and look out the window. We travel through long tunnels in total darkness as the wheels scream. We listen and watch as old men hit on groups of teenage girls. We sweat in the sunshine and breath the enveloping warmth.

And in between it all my mind thinks about stories and my fingers get to writing.

So here is what is on my mind:

Yesterday we meet one of Zsolt’s high school friends for some ice cream downtown. Let’s call him The Big Man, because he’s tall and wide like a superhero. The Big Man is a guy who always looks like he is on the go, crusing for ladies and making important deals. Yesterday when we met, he showed up in a dark leather jacket and wore mirrored sunglasses even though it was about twenty-five degrees outside.

Anyhow, we meet with TBM and after some chatting I did not understand (whenever Zsolt and TBM meet, there is a lot of Hungarian spoken. I think they talk about women and life – but who knows?), we went off for some ice cream.

Here is something you’d never expect: Zsolt’s highschool buddy, TBM had a stroke three years ago this Sunday. That stroke took away his ability to speak and walk – everything had to relearned. But you wouldn’t know it to look at him today. And I guess since that happened (right around the time I was diagnosed with cancer) I’ve seen him as a different person – not as anyone less impressive, but certainly as someone more relatable.

And yesterday TBM said something that made him seem even more normal.

Even though he comes off looking successful and confident . . . not all is well. He’s looking for work, as are so many these days. When I asked him (since his English is excellent), “If you could do anything or be anything, what what you do or be?”

He replied, “That’s the problem, I don’t know. I could lie and make something up, but the truth is that I don’t know. I feel purposeless.”

It’s hard to get anywhere when you don’t know where you are going. But on the other hand, not all who wander are lost. I don’t know when the window of finding yourself closes in society, but I reckon it ought to stay open as long as needed, and then reopened again and again to air out our lives and take in fresh perspectives.

But to feel purposeless is a heavy thing. I wouldn’t have suspected it since TBM really does come off as a ‘big man’ in more than just the physical sense – he’s just somehow impressive.

So there you have it. Everyone has their struggles, from physical challenges like strokes, growth spurts, back pains, losing breasts, etc., and everyone has personal challenges too. So the next time I look upon someone with defensive judgement (because I have an instinctual distrust toward people who seem too cool), I will try to remember TBM and the vulnerability he so honestly shared.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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5 thoughts on “Riding the train in Hungary

  1. This just goes to show that judging by appearances can be a dangerous game. Sometimes I feel useless, too, given my chronic pain from chemo, even though I look normal to the people around me. But I try to keep up ukulele practice and do some writing to help others. I want to feel worthwhile. Just like TBM. xo

    • Your writing often leaves me smiling when I read it, Jan. Whether it’s about your family, gathering vegetables or the tree in your yard – it’s just lovely yo hear from you. I can only imagine how many women feel exactly the same.

  2. dear catherine,

    you always manage to make me smile as i see myself in so many of your “lightbulb” moments. it’s easy to forget as we make our way through encounters with so many unknowns – about people we think we know, about complete strangers, too – that there are so many hurting hearts, that the stage of life all around us can be filled with actors who have lost their way. i do hope that you and zsolt will hear that your friend has found something that makes him feel valued and fulfulled. coming back from having a stroke , and now to feeling he hasn’t a purpose must be very painful; good that you two met up with him – maybe he came away from your time together feeling a bit better just being able to re-connect and enjoy some time with you and zsolt.

    thanks for sharing your thoughts; your insight is one that is so typical of your special ability to help us be aware of more than just what people and their situations appear to be.

    love, XOXO,

    karen, TC

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